As Thad Matta started his 12th season at Ohio State with the youngest team he has ever coached, it was fitting that one of his few veterans scored the first points of the season.
Marc Loving, the lone junior on a team with no seniors, got the scoring started in the Buckeyes season opener against Mount Saint Mary’s (0-2). He atoned for a turnover on the team’s first possession of the season with an offensive rebound and put back to give Ohio State (1-0) a 2-0 advantage 47 seconds in to the season.
While the Mountaineers would even things on their next possession, Ohio State regained the lead with a 3-pointer from freshman JaQuan Lyle and never relinquished it, earning a 76-54 win in the first game of the season.
Matta said that with the young roster he found himself doing more teaching during timeouts than has been typical in recent years.
"I think that’s the thing, even in timeouts, we’re saying, ‘This is where you have to be, this is the action, this is the rotation,’" the coach said. "We made some rotations today that we did not make last Sunday (in an exhibition against Walsh). I think from that standpoint it’s definitely a step in the right direction, but it is going to be teaching, it’s going to be just a constant drawing on free throws and showing guys this is what we need to do.”
Lyle joined sophomore Keita Bates-Diop and sophomore transfer Trevor Thompson in making their first starts in scarlet and gray, joining Loving and Jae’Sean Tate to make up Matta’s starting five. True freshmen A.J. Harris, Daniel Giddens and Austin Grandstaff and redshirt freshman Dave Bell also saw their first official action at Value City Arena, making their college debuts in front of 11,590 fans.
The new-look lineup was sloppy early, turning the ball over four times in the first 2:40 of the game, giving Mount Saint Mary’s an opportunity to hang around. Seven points apiece from Loving and Lyle allowed Ohio State to take a methodical 16-6 lead that would be cut to 20-13 despite Bates-Diop’s first four points of the year.
From that point – the 9:16 mark of the first half – Tate led the Buckeyes on a 17-0 run that would last over five minutes. The Mountaineers finally scored again on a layup by Junior Robinson, but by that time it was 37-15 as 11 points from Tate, 4 from Giddens and two from Lyle completed the run.
The Buckeyes and Mountaineers were mostly even for the remainder of the half as Ohio State doubled up its Northeast Conference opponent at the break 42-21.
While the Buckeyes first-half run provided plenty of separation for the team to improve to 1-0 for the 12th straight year under Matta and improve the coach’s record against unranked opponents to 164-4, the sloppiness that plagued the team early were consistent throughout. First-time starting point guard JaQuan Lyle committed two of the team’s four early turnovers and finished with five of the team’s 18 on the night.
“Just having a young team, being the first game I think that played a role in it and as the season goes on having two freshman point guards and just having so many young guys," Tate said of the turnovers. "I think we’ll mature and I’m sure coach has something for us in practice to get those turnovers down a little bit.”
The Buckeyes couldn’t carry their late-first half dominance into the second as the team’s traded scores for much of the first 10 minutes after intermission. A 12-2 run by the Mountaineers, capped by a offensive rebound and tip in from Gregory Graves, pulled them within 54-40 with 10:36 remaining and prompted Matta to call a timeout.
Following the timeout, a pair of Loving baskets sandwiched free throws from Bates-Diop and a dunk from Thompson to swell the Buckeyes lead to 20 at 62-42 with 7:48 remaining. Mount Saint Mary’s chipped away again, trimming the Buckeye advantage to 13 at 64-51 with five minutes left. Ohio State finally closed the door on the Mountaineers from there scoring the next nine points on its way to victory.
Tate led all scorers with 21, including two made 3-pointers to nearly reach his season-long total of three from the 2014-15 season. Joining him in double figures was Loving who had a double-double with 15 points and 11rebounds while Lyle added 12 points despite ceding point guard duties to Harris for much of the season half. Bates-Diop also finished with a double-double with10 points and 10 rebounds.
Giddens and Thompson recorded their first points as Buckeyes while splitting time in the post, finishing with 10 and 4, respectively. A 3-pointer from Austin Grandstaff with just over a minute remaining gave him his first career points.
The win gave Matta 300 in his Ohio State career, improving him to 300-94 as a Buckeye.
“That’s just another stat to add to his resume," Tate said. "He’s a wonderful coach, he’s a wonderful guy and hopefully we have many to come this year to build on that.”