Ohio State stood strong against Virginia's barrage of 3-point shots and streaky scoring to keep the game tight through most of the first half, and the Buckeyes were only down by 2 at the break. Generally, the Buckeyes looked much more composed and patient than in recent games -- players were engaged, offensive sets were being executed, and mistakes were.... well they were still there, but less frequent and less crippling.
There's still plenty of room for improvement here. The team generally passes the ball well but has a tendency to wait for too long in the shot clock to make a move to the basket. Desperation shots as time expired resulted in air balls and empty possession for the Buckeyes at least twice in the first half.
In the limited minutes I've watched this year, I have enjoyed seeing new cool-dad Thad Matta patiently coaching and teaching this young squad. Young players have always gotten a fair amount of slack in Matta's system, but with so many fresh faces this year it had to be a little bit of a concern that Matta would come down too hard on this team. No so, Matta looks to be unfazed with the Buckeyes' slow start and stupid mistakes, content to chalk each new foible up as a teachable moment. Even players who have yet to live up to expectations, like Austin Grandstaff, played minutes in tonight's important game.
The Buckeyes came out hot after halftime, nailing two three-pointers while holding Virginia to just 2 points and taking their first lead of the game. Virginia answered and stretched their lead to 5 by the 15 minute mark, however. Tate single-handedly kept the Buckeyes close, knocking down every kind of jump shot to keep Virginia's lead in check. Marc Loving gave the Buckeyes a two point lead again with 13 minutes to go on a graceful pull-up jumper.
Neither team was able to pull out much of a lead in this tight match as the Buckeyes and Cavaliers traded baskets down the stretch. Virginia stretched the lead to 5 at the 9-minute mark, but Jaquan Lyle and Marc Loving notched confident three-pointers in retort to keep things tight. Eventually the Buckeyes resorted to a strategy of shooting just three-pointers and it burned them badly when the shooting went ice cold. The Buckeyes kept it honest down the stretch, but just couldn't hit the shots down the stretch to get a win.
1. Daniel Giddens is the truth.
Giddens is clearly the x-factor on this team. He can block, he seems aware of what's going on around him (Hi, Amir Williams), and is already very engrained in this team. Despite being one of the youngest players on the court, Giddens directs traffic during inbounds plays and provides communication and encouragement to his teammates.
Giddens disrupted half a dozen shots in the first half alone and showed off his nicely developing hook shot. (His only points of the half, but still...) With 3 minutes to go, Gidden had four blocks, three in the first half alone before he sat for most of the second half. Giddens is also constantly in useful motion, rotating well on defense, setting high screens for Lyle and Tate, and generally just being a net positive for this team.
The bottom-line: he's going to be a force to be reckoned with this season and in the future.
2. The turnover bug still plagues the Buckeyes, but they're on the mend.
At the halftime break, both Virginia and Ohio State each had only 5 turnovers. A few times the Buckeyes made some boneheaded passes to no one or shuffled their feet, but on the whole, the turnovers were more under control tonight. The best part is that no single player appears to be culprit of the turnovers - what few turnovers the Buckeyes did have were evenly distributed among all players. There are no weak links here, just a fragile chain.
In the second half the turnover rate actually slowed some before picking up with a vengeance when the Cavalier defense tightened up, although the Buckeyes got bailed out of some questionable decisions: bad passes, kicked balls, etc.
3. Good defense is starting to show up.
Thad Matta's teams have always played hard-nosed defense first, sometimes at the cost of functioning offense. While last year's team spent much of the year in a zone offense that was easier for new players to pick up, this team is already generally grasping the concepts of Matta's defensive rotations enough to stay in man for the most part.
That's not to say there weren't serious issues tonight. Virginia buried several deep threes in the first half before the Buckeyes were able to adjust and shut down the outside shot. In the second half the Buckeyes showed some trouble in fighting through screens and helping when the screens worked.
The scoring streaks are worrisome, but the encouraging part is that the Buckeyes were able to adjust and plug the leaks before Virginia could pile on any meaningful points. This looks like a team that likes to play defense, and that's a very good sign this early in the season.