Prior to tipping off against Penn State Monday night, Thad Matta made a lineup change in an effort to jump start his Buckeyes and get them out of a two game slide.
The 5-foot-9 point guard A.J. Harris was inserted in place of JaQuan Lyle while Daniel Giddens replaced Trevor Thompson down low as the new lineup helped the Buckeyes to a 66-46 win on Jan. 25. For Harris, the start against the Nittany Lions was the first of his college career while Giddens started his first game since a loss on Dec. 1 to Virginia.
While Harris and Giddens had been playing well in recent games despite OSU losses, it was their play in the auxiliary gyms at Value City Arena that earned them a spot in the starting lineup according to Matta.
“Both (A.J.) and Daniel had really, really practiced well leading in and we had a couple days there to really, really get after it, really, really compete and I don’t want to say it was easy, but it was something that those guys probably earned the right to start,” Matta said.
Harris, who scored a career high 11 points in a 75-64 loss to Purdue on Jan. 21 scored just four points against Penn State but also added a team high four assists and committed just one turnover in the win.
Jae’Sean Tate who shot a perfect 6-for-6 from the field and finished with 15 points against Penn State said Harris being inserted into the starting lineup helped the Buckeyes get off to a fast start. OSU led by as much as 15 in the first half against the Nittany Lions.
"It definitely helps a lot. He (Harris) is one of fastest, if not the fastest player in college basketball,” Tate said of the freshman Dayton, Ohio native. “He is also the head of the snake so he gets us going. He has the ball in his hands, and we feed off of him."
As for Giddens, the freshman finished with five points and a game-high nine rebounds against the Nittany Lions and earned praise from Matta after the game.
“Daniel was into the game, he played through some mistakes that he had and I thought he did a nice job,” Matta said.
For Lyle, the win over Penn State was his first time coming off the bench in his young collegiate career and Thompson had started 17 of 21 games in his first full season as a Buckeye.
Matta said he hopes that the lineup changes get everyone in the locker room, not just Lyle and Thompson to show more of a sense of urgency as the Buckeyes near the halfway point of the Big Ten season.
“I think that you’re constantly trying to send a message to your team. I want these guys to understand with where this team is right now, Thursday night we’ll turn the halfway mark of the Big Ten and we’ll be nine games down. You’ve got to step out of your comfort zone,” Matta said. “You step out of your comfort zone every day and that’s something this team needs. This team can’t ever feel comfortable, we can’t feel good about what we’ve just done because it’s so hard moving forward. I hope that guys understand that when we come back in here tomorrow, strap it on and we’ve got to continue to get better.”
Matta added he is hoping to see his team show a sense of urgency before the Buckeyes travel to take on Illinois on Thursday.
“I want to see them fight, I want to see them come back and play harder, practice a little bit better,” Matta said. “Like I said, I think that hopefully, not only those two, but everybody says, ‘Hey, this practice thing is for real. We’re not going to come in here wasting time, we’re going to compete, we’re going to get after it.’ I think with that said, hopefully we’re moving in the right direction.”
The Buckeyes will look to build on their win over Penn State when they travel to Champaign, Ill. to take on the Fighting Illini. Tip is set for 9 p.m.