After two throughly underwhelming wins to start the season against Navy and North Carolina Central, Ohio State fans could be forgiven for adjusting their expectations downward. The Buckeyes previously struggled to get any separation against middling opposition, failed to convert at the stripe, and made hasty fouls.
But against Providence, the best team the Buckeyes have faced so far, they took a major step in the right direction.
Paced by a resurgent performance by JaQuan Lyle, who had been benched in the second half against Navy and North Carolina Central, the Buckeyes attacked the basket early and often against Providence, en route to a big win in Ohio State’s first appearance in the Gavitt Games, 72-67.
Lyle was a major reason for Ohio State’s performance. After a somewhat shaky start, Lyle attacked the basket with abandon, utilizing his size advantage, to bully ahead for 15 first half points on 6-8 shooting. Jae’Sean Tate added 11, finding holes in the Friar zone, and Marc Loving, while scoreless in the first half, added seven rebounds. The Buckeyes lead for most of the first half, and went into the break up ten, 38-28. They held the Friars to 34.4% shooting. This happened even though Ohio State’s top two bigs, Micah Potter and Trevor Thompson, found themselves in early foul trouble.
A quick lead after halftime trimmed the Ohio State margin to four, and trimmed it again to a single point near the ten minute mark, as Ohio State’s offense began to drag. But a Trevor Thompson finish, a JaQuan Lyle drive and a Kam Williams splash helped push the margin again, and while the Friars threatened, the Buckeyes were eventually able to pull out the win.
A scary moment happened at the 14 minute mark, when Keita Bates-Diop went down after awkwardly landing on his leg after a hard screen, having to get helped off the court, leaving the game. Ohio State initially said he had an ankle injury, and was ruled out for the rest of the game. They later reported he had a hyper-extended right knee. His status is unknown at this time.
Another reason Providence was able to hang around? The stellar play of Rodney Bullock, who willed the Friars back into the game in the second half. He finished with a game high 27 points, including five threes, along with eight boards.
Jae’Sean Tate chiped in 14 points for the Buckeyes, while Marc Loving added eight points and ten rebounds. Trevor Thompson had 12 points and nine rebounds.
Here’s what we learned from the game:
1) Well actually, JaQuan Lyle is good at basketball. Ohio State has plenty of good basketball players, but perhaps nobody with the sheer upside and potential of Lyle, who certainly had not played like a star recruit at the start of the season.
Lyle’s probably never going to be a highly efficient distributor, but he has a huge size and strength advantage against most who will try to guard him, and he can use that to drive inside, get in transition, and either get to the basket, or set up his teammates. He did a great job of that tonight, and even hit a few tough threes for good measure.
His final line? 20 points, eight boards and seven dimes. Ohio State’s celling jumps up dramatically if Lyle is cooking, and that was enough to help them beat a team that should at least be in the NIT conversation tonight.
2) Ohio State has great defensive potential. Ohio State is still learning how to be a consistently good offensive team, but if there’s one place where they can hang their hat, it’ll be on defense.
Ohio State’s length across their lineup gave Providence problems all night, limiting their ability to get high percentage shots, while also jumping into passing lanes. The extent that Providence was able to hang around depended on their ability to hit really tough shots, as they shot under 40% for the game.
There is room to grow a bit on how well this team rotates, but there’s a lot of potential there, and if you can defend at a high level in the Big Ten, you’ll be able to stay in a lot of basketball games.
3) There’s still plenty of kinks to work out. Despite a decent amount of experience on this team, it’s clear this is not a finished product yet. Micah Potter has hinted at some impressive offensive potential, but he picked up his second foul before the second minute of the game, and was a total non-factor. Ohio State only shot 33% from downtown, and turned the ball over 11 times. Foul trouble across the team, even off the ball, was an issue, and they let a team that’s probably still worse than them hang around longer than they’d like.
There’s potential there, and Ohio State showed more flashes of it tonight than they did against Navy or North Carolina Central, but if they want to make a run in March, there’s still work to be done.