In Ohio State’s last two games, a road loss to Wisconsin and a home defeat at the hands of Maryland, the Buckeyes fell despite different players stepping up.
In a 79-68 loss to the Badgers Thursday it was JaQuan Lyle leading the way, scoring 27 points off the bench. Four Days earlier Jae’Sean Tate had a team-high 16 in a loss to the Terrapins. The problem with both of those contests, however, is that no other Buckeye managed more than 10 points.
Ohio State (14-10, 6-5 Big Ten) has struggled to get everybody on the same page this season and as a result has seen their season begin to slip away. Losers of five of their last eight games, the Buckeyes are currently eighth in the Big Ten and will fall to .500 in conference play if they can’t get past Northwestern tonight.
“I think it’s just everybody has to go in with the same mindset,” Tate said. “Don’t think about it, don’t go out there and be nervous. Let the game come to you. I think the rest will handle itself because this team practices extremely hard. We put in so much time, there’s no reason for us not all to play great at the same time.”
While there may be no clear reason for it, Ohio State coach Thad Matta has not gotten a well-rounded performance from his team often this season. The result has been some frustratingly narrow defeats as both the Wisconsin and Maryland games seemed there for the taking for the Buckeyes.
That wasn’t the case, however, the last time the Buckeyes faced the Wildcats.. In that game, a 65-56 Ohio State win, the Buckeyes closed out Northwestern (16-8, 4-7) late for what was the first road win of the season.
Tate said that team’s can have the tendency to relax when playing a team they’ve already beat, but Ohio State has shown it can’t relax against anybody and expect to win.
Both Matta and players said that Northwestern is similar to the team the Buckeyes beat Jan. 6, though the Wildcats have seen the return of big man Alex Olah from injury since the team’s last meeting. Northwestern comes in to the matchup with Ohio State after snapping a five-game losing streak with a win over Minnesota it’s last time out.
When the Buckeyes traveled to Evanston, Ill., the Wildcats were paced by Bryant McIntosh who scored a team-high 15 while Ohio State did a nice job limiting Tre Demps, the other half of Northwestern’s talented tandem of guards, to just seven points on 17 shots. The Wildcats attempted 25 three-pointers in that game, though they made just six, and Matta is hoping for more of the same tonight.
“Obviously McIntosh and Demps, they kind of make the engine run in terms of how many shots they’re taking and what they’re doing,” Matta said. “They’re going to take a lot of threes. We’re definitely going to have to guard the three-point line.”
The head coach added that he won’t be sure of his starting lineup for the game until slightly before tipoff. Matta inserted A.J. Harris and Daniel Giddens for Lyle and Trevor Thompson five games ago and has stuck with that lineup since. However, with Lyle the most effective offensive player against Wisconsin the head coach stuck with him to start the second half.
Regardless of who starts, the Buckeyes would benefit greatly from Marc Loving snapping his recent slump. The junior averaged 16.2 points per game over the first five Big Ten games of the season but has seen that scoring output cut nearly in half over the past six, scoring just 8.2 per game.
“We’re hoping that he is going to hit his stride,” Matta said. “He’s worked very hard these last few days and he has to come to grips with just going out and playing his best basketball. There’s not anything else he needs to be thinking about. Just do what he can do and do it with great energy and great effort. Don’t over think certain things, just go out and play and when he does that he’s at his best.”
The Buckeyes are hoping for that Loving to show up tonight against Northwestern.