Following a two-game losing streak in Big Ten play and a stretch in which Ohio State lost three of four in league play Thad Matta made a change.
The coach’s decision to insert A.J. Harris and Daniel Giddens into the starting lineup worked against Penn State Monday and the Buckeyes walked away with a 66-46 victory. Though it worked, Matta is not guaranteeing the same five players start against Illinois tonight at 9 p.m..
“Yeah we’re going to go in and practice for two hours and we’re going to compete,” Matta said Wednesday. “Quite honestly A.J. and Daniel were noticeably different going in to the Penn State game just in terms of what they brought to practice and I think they have a pretty good understanding of we’re going in today and this is very important in terms of what they do.
“Yeah, (the starting lineup could change), but I want to see guys fight.”
For their part, both Giddens and Harris seemed comfortable in their roles. The pair provided defensive intensity, and while they didn’t bring much of a scoring punch (Giddens and Harris combined for nine points), the provided the energy and effort that Matta had been calling for.
Giddens, who started three games earlier this season, said the start against Penn State felt like his first one all over again. The center didn’t find out he would start until six or seven minutes before the game, he said, adding that he was nervous about the opportunity.
While there was no guarantee made that he would be starting again against Penn State, Giddens was calm and relaxed when he spoke with the media yesterday, comfortable enough to reference hulk and the flying nun in the same interview session.
“It elevates the other four guys out there,” Bates-Diop said of Giddens energy. “If he’s out there showing so much emotion that looks bad on us if we’re not doing anything to compete with his emotion, his intensity. When we’re out there and we see him screaming or he blocks a shot it raises our blood pressure and we just want to get going with him.”
Whether it comes from the bench or the starting lineup, the Buckeyes will be looking for that energy from Giddens against Illinois tonight against Illinois.
Last time that Ohio State (13-8, 5-3) faced the Illini (10-10, 2-5) the Buckeyes left with a 75-73 win on Jan. 3. Marc Loving led the way with 27 points while JaQuan Lyle poured in 14. The Illini had four players score 14 points.
Illinois uses a guard heavy lineup led by Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm, sometimes using lineups without any traditional front court players. The one post player they use consistently, Michael Finke, is a stretch forward who shot eight threes last time the Buckeyes and Illini played.
“I think they’re getting back to being healthy” Matta said of Illinois. “Obviously Hill and Nunn are playing at a very, very high level. Finke can cause problems just with his ability to step out and shoot threes and playing at the five spot, they’ve kind of moved him around a little bit and played he and (Maverick) Morgan together.
“It’s one of those teams that when they get hot watch out. I think that they probably play the fastest in terms of shot clock and trying to get shots so doing the best we can to get back in transition is going to be key and having a better feel for the changing defenses then we did in game one which I think we will.”
As Matta said, Illinois operates fast. John Groce’s team averaged 60 field goal attempts per game, second only to Indiana in the Big Ten. Luckily for the Buckeyes they’ll have the energy of Harris and Giddens to help them keep up.