In trying to get a desperately needed win Tuesday, Ohio State shook things up a little bit. Although it wasn’t enough in a 77-71 loss to No. 17 Maryland, it might be a sign that the Buckeyes are going to have to get creative if they want to turn around their season.
With JaQuan Lyle — his team’s leading Big Ten scorer — on the bench for the final 12:12 against the Terrapins, coach Thad Matta mixed his lineups. One that he had never used before nearly pushed the Buckeyes over the top.
Ohio State trailed 66-63 with 5:22 to play when Matta opted to go small, bringing in forward Jae’Sean Tate for center Micah Potter. Tate joined a lineup of fellow starters Marc Loving and Kam Williams and reserves C.J. Jackson and Andre Wesson, marking the first time those five were on the court together. That group pulled the Buckeyes within one on three occasions, and came up short of tying the score when Loving missed a runner from the left block.
Concluding that Ohio State is better off without a center is folly. Concluding that the effort that lineup brought to the court is necessary for the Buckeyes to win is a certainty.
“I thought those guys were playing extremely hard, were very active on both ends of the floor and they did a really good job of doing what we wanted offensively,” Matta said. “We had a couple of mishaps, but I … just liked the way they were rolling there.”
It was just the most recent reminder that Ohio State has shown it can play good basketball when motivated.
Matta and Jackson said the example shown by that final group is applicable to every member of the roster.
“I just felt like it was guys out there that wanted to win it,” Jackson said. “With everything that’s been going on the last couple of weeks, we weren’t out there worried about what if we lose, we were just playing for each other. Maryland’s a very good team and they’re going to make tough plays, but for the most part I’d say we just came and brought a different type of energy that we haven’t seen all year out of guys.”
Matta said after the game that the coaches were doing more coaching in the moment rather than relying on what had been planned because of the personnel on the court. It could be more of the same tonight at Michigan after Matta said Lyle would miss Friday’s practice because of an ankle injury suffered during Thursday’s session, and an unidentified player “had his bell rung.”
Regardless of who is on the court, Jackson said the Buckeyes can win if they control what they can.
“If we just play hard for 40 minutes, it doesn’t really matter who’s out there or what lineup,” Jackson said. “If everyone plays with energy and we play for each other we’ll be all right.”