Ohio State had four starters hit double figures in scoring in Saturday's 89-62 win over VMI. Even though the Buckeyes were without freshman Daniel Giddens, who wasn't able to play due to illness, Trevor Thompson stepped in a big way to help pace Ohio State. The transfer from Virginia Tech had his best game in the scarlet and grey, recording his first double-double as he scored 13 points and pulled down 10 rebounds in 29 minutes. In the four games prior to Saturday's win Thompson had scored a combined 13 points.
The strong work on the offensive end by Ohio State's starters resulted in the Buckeyes setting a season-high with 89 points. The previous high point total for the season was 82 points, which Ohio State scored in the season-opening win against Mount St. Mary's. Where there was noticeable improvement for the Buckeyes was at the charity stripe. Ohio State hit 15 of the 19 free throws they took, with the only game they shot a better percentage from the foul line coming against Mount St. Mary's.
What really helped to propel Ohio State to the big win on Saturday was the Buckeyes weren't as sloppy with the basketball. Against VMI, the Buckeyes only turned the basketball over nine times, which was a season-low. It was the first game this year in which Ohio State dished out more assists than turnovers, with the Buckeyes notching 14 assists in the victory. JaQuan Lyle again was the main distributor for the Buckeyes, registering seven assists. The freshman point guard has now recorded at least four assists in each of the last six games, and has led Ohio State in assists in each game this season.
While VMI kept things rather close in the first 20 minutes, only trailing 42-31 at half, the Buckeyes were able to pull away due to their tremendous work rebounding. Ohio State outrebounded the Keydets 48-27, with 17 of those 48 rebounds coming on the offensive glass. Ohio State will get a boost on the boards tonight since it is expected that Daniel Giddens will be able to return after missing Saturday's game.
Air Force is 6-2 on the season, with most of their games coming down to the wire. The Falcons have won their last three games by a combined eight points. In total, the six wins by Air Force this year have been by a combined 31 points. Unlike Ohio State, who has seen all four of their losses come by eight points or less, Air Force has been able to finish in close games. In games decided by four points or less, Air Force is 4-1, with the only blemish on that record coming in the season-opener when they lost to Southern Illinois 77-75.
The 6-2 start for the Falcons is tied for the second-best in school history. Dave Pilipovich's first year in charge in Colorado Springs in 2012-13 saw the Falcons also start the season 6-2 before eventually finishing the season with an 18-14 mark. The only time when Air Force started the season better came in 2006-07 when the Falcons started the year 7-1 under Jeff Bzdelik. This marks Pilipovich's fourth year as head coach of Air Force, and so far he has amassed a 52-57 record.
Air Force hasn't had much of a track record lately against Big Ten teams, only playing two games against teams from the conference since 2004. The Falcons lost both of those games, falling 73-63 against Iowa in 2004, as well as losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament 78-69 to Illinois in 2006. Tonight's meeting will mark the first-ever matchup between Air Force and Ohio State.
The strong start to the season for Air Force is a little surprising considering the rank in the bottom half of the Mountain West Conference in many of the statistical categories. The only statistic the Falcons are ranked first in among MWC is assist/turnover ratio, which they average 1.4 assist for every turnover. With Ohio State's propensity to turn the basketball over this season, the Falcons will have to continue to value the basketball if they want to be competitive in tonight's game.
Numbers to know
Under Thad Matta, Ohio State is 265-28 when they shoot better from the field than their opponents. Last year the Buckeyes were 23-0 when shooting a higher field goal percentage than their foes. This year Ohio State has shot better than their opponents in all seven games, but they haven't been able to secure as many victories as they have in past years, losing four of the first seven games.
This year has seen a lot more activity on the defensive end near the basket for the Buckeyes, as Ohio State has recorded at least five blocks in six consecutive games. While previous games the Buckeyes were able to rely on Daniel Giddens' blocking prowess, Ohio State had four different players record at least one block in Saturday's victory over VMI. With Giddens returning for tonight's game, Ohio State has a good shot to continue their streak of swatting at least five shots.
While Ohio State has struggled most of the year from the foul line, it has been the opposite when the Buckeyes put their opponents on the foul line. Opponents are shooting 78.9% from the free throw line against Ohio State, which is the third-highest percentage in the country. Miami (Ohio) opponents are shooting 81.3% from the charity stripe, which is best in the country. Only three power five conference teams are in the Top 25, with Oregon's opponents hitting 78.6 of their foul shots, which is fifth-best, and Kansas sitting 23rd with their opponents hitting 75.4% of their free throws.
Cast of characters
The junior from Toledo continued his strong start to the season, registering his second career double-double on Saturday, with 17 points and 10 rebounds against VMI. Loving is averaging 17 points per game, which ranks sixth in the Big Ten. Loving has now scored in double figures in each game this season, and has also hit at least one three-pointer in every game for the Buckeyes this year. The 16 three-pointers Loving has hit through seven games is the most of any Ohio State player this year.
Tate had a team-high 19 points in Saturday's victory over VMI. The sophomore's offense effort was just shy of his season-high, which he registered in the season-opener against Mount St. Mary's, where he scored 21 points. Tate is leading Ohio State this season from the field, hitting 53.3% of his field goal attempts. Tate has also been putting in work on the glass, with the 7.7 rebounds he's grabbing per game currently ranking fifth in the Big Ten. Tate has pulled down at least four rebounds in every game this season.
The junior from Austin, Texas has been very strong this year, registering three double-doubles, with his best offensive output coming in the win over The Citadel last week, when he scored a season-high 20 points. Graham is averaging nine rebounds per game this year, and hasn't recorded less than seven rebounds in a game through Air Force's first eight games. Graham's season-high on the glass came against Robert Morris, when he pulled down 12 rebounds to go along with 16 points.
While Graham has enjoyed tremendous success scoring and rebounding this year, Air Force's leading scorer is the sophomore from Virginia. Lyons is averaging 15.3 points per game and 4.1 assists per game this year. Lyons scored 22 points in the win over The Citadel, and there has only been one game in which Lyons has failed to reach double-digits in scoring. Lyons narrowly missed out on a double-double against The Citadel, as he dished out nine assists in the win. Keep an eye out for Lyons on the defensive end since he has recorded at least two steals in seven out of eight games this year.
How to watch
Game time: 8 p.m. ET
Radio: 97.1 The Fan
TV: Big Ten Network