Be it on the gridiron or the hardwood, Ohio State has had its share of back-and-forth slobberknockers in the past week. On Wednesday night, the unranked Buckeyes went on the road for their first challenge of the season against No. 6 Virginia, and despite leading for nearly the entire game, fell to the Cavaliers 63-61 in one of the most exciting games of the 2016 ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Despite the loss, OSU turned in an impressive performance against one of the country’s best teams.
Early on, it was obvious that Ohio State was not up against the likes of North Carolina Central, Jackson State, or Marshall, as UVA’s energetic approach on both sides of the floor stood in stark contrast from what the Buckeyes had seen in the first six games of the season.
Despite the step up in competition, OSU appeared ready for the challenge early as they maintained a 12-7 lead at the under-16 timeout. Playing against Ken Pomeroy’s best team in the country, the Bucks seemed to find an extra-gear, matching the Cavaliers in tempo and on the glass.
Through the game’s first 10 minutes, both because of stellar defense and poor UVA shooting, Ohio State held a 55% to 21% advantage from the field. OSU continued a theme common in their best performances this year; in the first half, the Buckeyes outscored Virginia 22-4 in the paint. The inside advantage buoyed the Buckeyes to an early 22-11 lead.
Back-to-back three-pointers from sophomore point guard C.J. Jackson around the four-minute mark ballooned the lead to 32-16 for OSU. Those buckets pushed the Buckeyes to 4-10 from behind the arc in the first half, compared to the Cavaliers who were 3-10.
With UVA cutting the Buckeye lead to 32-21, Virginia’s Kyle Guy got a pass from Devon Hall in transition, setting him up for what appeared to be an uncontested layup, but Buckeye big-man Trevor Thompson recovered well, and blocked the shot, igniting a fast-break that resulted in a layup for Jae’Sean Tate. Virginia’s mini-run was in part spurred on by OSU guard JaQuan Lyle, who fell victim to a few minutes of sloppy play, ending the first half with six of OSU’s nine turnovers. Lyle tightened up in the second half, ending the game with 12 points, five assists, and eight turnovers.
At the half, the Buckeyes held a 36-24 lead, out-shooting UVA 60% to 29% from the floor. Coming into the game, the Cavaliers had not allowed an opponent to score 53 all season, holding opponents to a collective shooting percentage of 30.5%.
Unsurprisingly, the Cavaliers came out strong in the second half, scoring the first eight points, to cut the lead to 36-32, before Thad Matta was forced to call a timeout. It wasn’t until Tate hit a pair of free-throws 4:10 into the second half that OSU ended the UVA-run.
With 14:40 remaining in the second half, London Perrantes hit a jumper to give Virginia their first lead of the game, however, on the subsequent possession, Jackson hit his third three-pointer of the game to give the lead back to the Buckeyes.
Over the next four minutes, Ohio State was able to hold off the Cavaliers’ offensive, as they maintained a 46-41 lead. UVA turned up their defense throughout the second half, forcing more turnovers from the Buckeyes. OSU ended the game with 20 turnovers, and the Cavaliers turned those into 18 points.
With just under 5:30 to play in regulation, Tate picked up his fourth foul, and had to sit. While the Buckeye scoring was fairly balanced for the game, Tate led the team in points and rebounds with 14 and 9. With the game within on possession, losing their best player for any amount of time, was not something that the Buckeyes could withstand.
After an offensive rebound, Perrantes hit a three to tie the game at 55 with just four minutes left in the second half. On the next possession, Lyle slipped through the UVA defense for a layup, giving the lead back to the Buckeyes.
As the clock ticked under two minutes, Marial Shayok took the ball to the hole to give UVA a 59-57 lead. With less than 25 seconds remaining and down 61-59, the Buckeye press was broken with an outlet pass to UVA’s Isaiah Wilkins who got the layup to extend the lead.
However, on the next UVA possession, Shayok was fouled and missed both free-throws, giving the Buckeyes an opportunity down 63-61 with just 6.5 seconds remaining. However, a deep three by Lyle went unanswered as time expired.
For the fourth game in a row, junior forward Keita Bates-Diop was not in the starting lineup for OSU, as he nurses a high ankle sprain that he suffered on November 17th against Providence. Though he was dressed and available for the game in Charlottesville, he didn’t see any action; the Ohio State staff seeming to prefer to play it safe, rather than sorry.
Ohio State returns to the hardwood on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET against Fairleigh Dickinson. The game will be broadcast from the Value City Arena on BTN.com.
3 things we learned
1. The Buckeyes are capable of playing up to their competition too. Coming into this matchup, few expected the Buckeyes to be able to hang with Virginia, who boasted the best defense in the country through the first month of the season.
The Buckeyes seemed to sleepwalk through the early season against below-average competition, however, against No. 6 Virginia, the Buckeyes looked like a completely new team for much of the game.
Against Marshall last week, they showed signs of the athleticism and efficiency that they would need to stand toe-to-toe with one of the toughest teams in college basketball, but UVA is in a different league than Marshall, Providence, and anyone else OSU has played so far this season. Nonetheless, Matta and company had the Buckeyes ready to compete from the opening tip.
Though the turnovers continue to be a a problem, as the Big Ten season approaches, Wednesday’s performance is a sign of good things to come.
2. Ohio State is at its best when they play inside out. This is beginning to be a bit of a broken record for the Buckeyes, but when their guards are able to work the ball inside the lane, their offense borders on special.
With a deep bench of seemingly interchangeable 6’4”-6’9” drill bits, nearly everyone on OSU’s roster is able to score in the paint, but when the opposing defense collapses, many are also able to hit from downtown. In addition to 32 points in the paint on the night, four players also hit three-pointers.
It is one of basketball’s most reliable truisms, but unless you are just loaded with studs on the outside, the way to win is inside-out.
3. It’s time to end the Marc Loving experiment. I understand that Marc Loving is a 1,000-point scorer, I understand that he is averaging an acceptable 11.5 points this season (third on the team), but I also understand that he is often the antithesis of what makes the rest of the team competitive.
While it is cliche, without a top-line star, it would be fair to describe this Ohio State team as scrappy. They spread the ball around, play solid team defense, and rarely give up on plays, as evidenced by a number of blocked shots coming from trailing OSU defenders against UVA.
However, other than an early first half play in which Loving laid out in a failed attempt to save a ball from going out of bounds, the team’s lone senior rarely displays anything approaching the energy of his teammates.
Against UVA, Loving shot 3-8 for 7 points in 39 minutes of play. If he is not going to be a more reliable, active part of the team’s systems on either offense or defense, I would rather see his playing time go to Kam WIlliams, Andre Wesson, or Bates-Diop when he is healthy.
Obviously Loving should still be in the rotation, but his 39 minutes led the team in playing time, and he was more-or-less a non-factor in determining the game’s outcome.