For the first time in more than two weeks Ohio State got a win.
The Buckeyes ended their four-game skid with a 89-62 win over Virginia Military Academy and it was obvious after the game how much it meant for the players to finally get back in the win column.
“It’s becoming more and more obvious every day how hard it is to win in college basketball,” Thad Matta said after the game. “I told them let’s celebrate this win. We’ve got another tough one on Tuesday night, we’ll come back in tomorrow and find ways to get better, but there was a lot of positives. We take a look at this film tomorrow I think we’re going to be able to find a lot of positive things that we did that we were asking them to do. Like I said we are still trying to hit that stride where certain things become constants for us, but that’s teaching and getting them to understand that.”
Ohio State actually got better in each of its losses, but so did the competition as the Buckeyes went from UT-Arlington to Louisiana Tech to Memphis to Virginia, dropping those games by an average of six points.
This team is not as bad as it has looked and given Thad Matta’s track record, continued improvement is a very reasonable expectation. Either way, finally facing a team that they could dominate seemed to do wonders for the Buckeyes confidence.
“I feel like it’s definitely a sense of relief,” Trevor Thompson said. “We’re a young team, but we’re still hungry and I feel like this game we grew a lot. Just like me and Marc have been saying, we followed execution and practice carried over into the game.”
The big win did nothing to erase the four straight losses, but should validate the Buckeyes thoughts that they were improving despite not seeing the results on the scoreboard. Those tangible results are important for such a young team that Matta has said is sometimes slow to take teaching.
“It’s definitely a different feeling, there’s definitely a different atmosphere in the locker room,” said Marc Loving, the team’s lone junior. It feels good to get a win under our belt, but we still have a lot to work on to be able to keep the one-game winning streak alive.”
Loving smirked when he called the victory a winning streak and the ability of the team to have some fun after the big win is a good sign.
The win, like Ohio State’s first two victories of the year, came by more than 20 points, and the Buckeyes should have a good shot to replicate that Tuesday against Air Force before things get more difficult with the team’s first true road game at UConn Dec. 12.
In the mean time, here’s what I’m taking away from the Buckeyes domination of the Keydets.
Turnovers Down: The key result for Matta in the win was the reduction in turnovers as the Buckeyes committed just nine on the night. They matched their season average with 14 assists, but it was the first time that Ohio State had more helpers than giveaways.
“The No. 1 thing I’m proud of is nine turnovers,” the coach said. “That’s been a focal point of what we’ve been trying to do in terms of taking care of the basketball, moving the basketball is something that we’ve got to continue to build on. I thought we sprayed the ball around, we had more movement and more flow in what we were doing and that was a good sign for us.”
While the assist total wasn’t astronomical, it felt like the Buckeyes were moving the ball as well as they have in weeks. Many of the team’s made shots came after multiple quality passes and there were multiple possessions where the ball hardly hit the floor. I can’t remember many of those in the previous four games combined.
The Buckeyes did try to go for home-run passes a bit too frequently and at least a handful of their nine turnovers were extremely careless, but it was a step forward.
Free Throws Fall: In addition to the turnovers, free throws had been the most glaring deficiency for Ohio State early in the season. The Buckeyes had hit just over 59 percent of their freebies through their first six games, but connected on 15 of 19 attempts against the Keydets.
Leading the charge was David Bell who went 4 for 4 while Jae’Sean Tate was 4 of 5. Tate entered the game 9 of 24 (37.5 percent).
Bell Plays Well: Speaking of Bell, he played well in relief of Trevor Thompson. The redshirt freshman finished with four points and four rebounds.
“I thought David did a pretty decent job,” Matta said. “Excited to see him play like that and make his free throws.”
Don’t expect Bell’s playing time to go up with the return of Giddens and I’m still confident he is by far the Buckeyes third best option at center, but it was nice to see him maximize his time on the court.