Marc Loving's disinterested body language on a would-be Buckeye fastbreak about told the story of this one. On a night when the Bucks didn't shoot particularly well, didn't play all that great D, and struggled (as has become far too customary) from the line, Ohio State didn't win pretty, but were able to leave Value City Arena back as a .500 basketball team.
Despite an impending trip to Brooklyn to take on No. 4 Kentucky, this was hardly a look ahead game for Thad Matta's young, raw Buckeyes. With long stretches of offensive inefficiency and the Bucks never able to put Northern Illinois away for good until late, OSU traded baskets with a particularly game NIU side on a night they'd be well served to forget. Even with the imminent increase in degree of difficulty, the value to be gained from dwelling on Wednesday's action beyond the overall experience gained would appear quite limited at face value.
In what would be an upset to end in any way other than as the worst team of the Thad Matta era, establishing a foundation for the future is paramount. With the postseason almost a pipe dream, getting better every day becomes the high-water mark. Did the Buckeyes get better Wednesday night? We'll know more come Saturday.
3 things to know
1. For better or worse, Jae'Sean Tate is the heartbeat of this team. Tate's high motor not only made him Ohio State's de facto go-to offensive option, but it helped him reenergize the other four Buckeyes on the court when the team fell into malaise.
While Tate's playing-bigger-than-he-is act is a welcome plus on a more complete team, as the guy for this group, there are times where gumption and overachieving just aren't enough. Never a three-point option in a million years just a season ago, that Tate leads this current team in three-point field goal percentage probably isn't a good thing.
It's hard not to root for a guy like Jae'Sean Tate. Ohio State fans have to wish he had more help doing what he does best is all.
2. For all Daniel Giddens' upside, he's far from a finished product. The up-and-down genesis of Giddens' Buckeye career took a plunge south in the worst of ways Wednesday evening.
Barely able to stay on the court due to foul trouble and ineffectiveness even when he was in, Giddens nearly recorded a trillion. Not exactly a good look for a former four-star.
While Kentucky on paper might actually be a good matchup for Giddens, NIU's lesser two bigs proved a source of ire for the Georgia product. He'll have to be sharper mentally in the future as he continues to grow into the college game.
3. This is still going to be a loooooong season. Even with NIU killing themselves on turnovers (with more than a dozen) and the Bucks almost constantly a made shot or two from landing a death blow, OSU looked every bit a team struggling to get their first KenPom Top 200 win on the season.
Shocking Kentucky on a neutral court feels like an impossible dream, but even playing a loaded John Calipari squad tough would be a marked improvement.
Though it's beyond frustrating as an OSU basketball devotee to have to resort to hoping for moral wins, given the youth, inexperience and talent level of a team not exactly built with the idea that D'Angelo Russell would be a one-and-done, that might be the new normal with this group moving forward.