When Ohio State finally snapped its four-game losing streak, it did so emphatically.
The Buckeyes (3-4) thrashed Virginia Military Institute 89-62 Saturday, earning their first win since Nov. 17 and snapping the longest losing streak against nonconference opponents since dropping their first seven of the 1957-58 season.
Ohio State fell behind built a 19-9 lead at the 13:44 mark behind 7 early points from Keita Bates-Diop and 5 each from Marc Loving and Jae’Sean Tate, but allowed the Keydets (3-4) to climb back in to it with a 13-4 run.
That stretch featured a 2:53 field goal drought from Ohio State and gave VMI a 23-22 lead. JaQuan Lyle got the lead back for the Buckeyes with a steal and a transition layup with 9:38 left in the first half and Ohio State wouldn’t trail for the rest of the game.
When the Keydets regained the lead it was a familiar feeling to the Buckeyes struggle to assert themselves in their four losses, but Loving said the team never lost confidence.
“When moments happen like that, we really just try to come together as much as possible,” the forward said. “If we don’t, we will end up losing a game. Just being together and a tight group of guys, I feel like we can really get it done.”
That Lyle layup was the start of a 19-5 run that gave Ohio State control of the game for good. Five different Buckeyes scored on the run, including threes from Bates-Diop and Austin Grandstaff, while the Keydets endured a 5:10 field goal drought over that stretch.
VMI connected on a three before the break to send the Buckeyes to the locker room with a 42-31 advantage.
The end-of-half run featured 7 points from Trevor Thompson. Starting in place of Daniel Giddens who missed the game with an illness, Thompson finished with 13 and 9 rebounds.
“He has a pretty good feel of when he catches the ball what needs to be done and what he needs to do with it. Hopefully we can build off that,” head coach Thad Matta said. “Get Daniel back Tuesday and continue to build that rotation. Like you said we had a great size advantage, but I think his timing on some of the things that he was doing was pretty good he was more engaged offensively and defensively than he probably was in the past which was big for us.”
The center was a big part of the Buckeyes domination on the boards and in the paint. Led by 10 rebounds from Loving, Ohio State thrashed VMI on the glass with 47 rebounds to the Keydets 27 while the Buckeyes outscored VMI in the paint 40-14.
Ohio State hauled in 17 offensive rebounds, leading to a 29-5 advantage in second-chance points. Those opportunities for second-chance points existed in part because the Buckeyes shot just 47.8 percent from the floor (33 of 69), but Matta said the team’s execution against VMI’s zone was better than offensive performances in recent games.
“I thought that even thought we didn’t shoot that high of a percentage that our execution was a little bit better,” the coach said. “We seemed to have a better understanding of what we were trying to do but we are still missing that gear where it just, there’s that flow. At times we get it but we’re just not quite there yet.”
The Keydets would pull within 10 twice in the second half, trailing 47-37 and 49-39, but would not get closer.
Loving hit a three with 14:35 left to make it 52-39 and start an 18-3 run that made it 67-42 with 9:21 remaining and allowed the Buckeyes to cost to their first victory in 18 days.
Nine Buckeyes scored in the win, led by 19 from Tate, and six different Buckeyes hit a three in the victory.
Bates-Diop, who only played 18 minutes and was held out for much of the second half with a back spasm, added 12 points while Loving had 17 to give the junior his second career double-double. JaQuan Lyle had 8 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists in the victory with no turnovers.
The 27-point win matched the largest victory of the season for Ohio State while the Buckeyes matched their season average with 14 assists and had more helpers than turnovers for the first time this season, finishing with just nine giveaways.