In Thad Matta's first 11 seasons in Columbus, the Ohio State basketball program lost only once on its home court to an unranked non-conference opponent. In the past two games, it has now happened twice.
"This team's got to find itself," Matta said after Tuesday's 82-74 defeat at the hands of Louisiana Tech. "We have to look at our weaknesses and find ways to correct them and get better at them."
The Buckeyes don't have much time to do so, as the will be going against tough competition in spotlight games in December against Virginia, Connecticut, and Kentucky all await, and if the team performs as it has thus far in the young season, those are going to be ugly games.
Friday's contest against Memphis, part of the HoopHall Miami Invitational, was also meant to be among those marquee matchups. But the Tigers have failed to play up to their potential as well, coming in at 2-2 and fresh off a four-point loss to the same UT Arlington squad that stunned Ohio State last week.
Much the same as Ohio State, head coach Josh Pastner's Memphis squad has struggled to make shots in clutch situations. "They out-toughed us today from the start, and that being said, we've cost ourselves two games with our free-throw shooting," Pastner said after the 68-64 defeat. "It cost us the Oklahoma game, it cost us this game with the amount of free throws that we missed."
Memphis hit just 16-54 (29.6 percent) from the field, 4-21 (19.0 percent) from three-point range, and 28-44 (63.6 percent) from the free throw line in their loss to the Mavericks.
The outcome when the Buckeyes and Tigers take the floor of American Airlines Arena could go a long way towards turning around the winning side's non-conference schedule. Can Ohio State, one of the youngest teams in all of college basketball, bounce back in the face of adversity? Or does Matta's squad still have more growing pains to endure?
Numbers to know
Memphis comes into Friday night's game struggling mightily from beyond the three-point arc in its first four games. The Tigers have knocked down a dismal 18-84 (21.4 percent) from deep, a number that overshadows the fact that they are defending opponents well at the three-point line at under 33 percent shooting.
Ohio State's youth has been exposed the past two games. Learning to bring consistent energy and execution can take time for players new to the college game, and the Buckeyes still have some growing up to do. Memphis has five seniors on the roster, four of whom play major roles in the rotation. On a neutral court, that level of experience may be the difference between a win and a loss on Friday night.
Marc Loving scored a career-high 25 points in Tuesday's loss to La Tech, hitting 8-15 from the floor, including 2-5 from long range. Averaging 16.5 points a night through the first four games, the Toledo native has looked much more aggressive on the offensive end than at any time in his first two seasons. Ohio State will need Loving to continue to pace the offense during the meat of the non-conference slate if it hopes to avoid limping into Big Ten play.
Cast of characters
While Loving has been the alpha dog of the Buckeyes on the offensive end, Bates-Diop has shown flashes of being a dynamic threat on the wing, slashing to the hoop and knocking down open looks from the perimeter. The sophomore is second on the team with 13 points and seven rebounds per game, and will need to have a solid night on both ends of the court if Ohio State is to come away with a win.
It took until just the fourth game of his career for Giddens to crack the starting lineup for Matta. The freshman from Oak Hill Academy has been a blur of energy so far, playing physical in the paint and running the floor with reckless abandon. In 22.5 minutes a game, Giddens is averaging 6.5 points, 6.8 boards, and 3.3 blocks, and providing the kind of athleticism and rim protection not seen in Columbus during the Amir Williams-Trey McDonald era.
Lawson, who shares a spot in the Tigers' freshman class with his brother, K.J., is proving to be a load to handle through his first four collegiate games. The top-ranked recruit coming out of the state of Tennessee leads Memphis in scoring at 14.8 points, 2.8 blocks, and 1.8 steals per game, and adds 8.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists.
A 6'9 senior, Goodwin is the muscle for Pastner, and will provide a big challenge for Ohio State's frontcourt. The Atlanta product leads the Tigers with 9.8 boards a night, and also contributes 9.5 points and 2.5 blocked shots. If Giddens and Trevor Thompson fail to match Goodwin's physicality, it could be a long night in the paint for the Buckeyes.
How to watch
Game time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Radio: 97.1 The Fan