It’s been a long, hard slog this season for the Ohio State men’s basketball team, and mercifully for many fans of the scarlet and gray, the regular season will come to an end on Saturday afternoon when the Buckeyes host Indiana.
Ohio State currently sits at 7-10 in Big Ten play, which during the Thad Matta era is a mark that rings with disappointment. Still, as we here at Land-Grant Holy Land have been beating the drum about for a few weeks now, the Buckeyes are not without incentives to finish out the season strong.
For one thing, a win over the Hoosiers would guarantee the team a first round bye in next week’s conference tournament in Washington D.C. For another, Ohio State has an opportunity to put together a winning streak longer than two games for the first time since starting the season 6-0. And finally, since nothing short of a Big Ten tournament championship is getting them into the NCAA tournament, there is NIT seeding, where NYCBuckets currently has the Buckeyes a No. 2 seed.
There is also the small matter of giving Marc Loving a senior day send-off as he concludes one of the strangest, most meandering career arcs in program history this side of Amir Williams.
In all fairness to Loving, he has been a gamer in Columbus, and Saturday’s appearance will move him into the program’s top ten in games played. The Toledo St. John product is also one of 27 players to notch 1,000 career points and 500 career rebounds, and in the Penn State game last time out passed Jamar Butler and Aaron Craft on the school’s scoring list.
Loving has also scored in double figures in each of the past five games, and has seen his scoring average jump to 13.2 per game in conference play, along with an increase to 41.5 percent shooting from the three-point line.
In a classy move by Ohio State, Loving, along with senior team managers Beau Beechler, Cameron Harris, and Brian Lamb, will be recognized before tip-off.
Befitting this year’s Buckeye squad, this final regular season game will be rife with storylines. Loving and his teammates still have much to play for, and heading into the Big Ten tourney with a little momentum could be just the boost they need to erase some of the drama that has unfolded since November.
Numbers to know
Ohio State boasts four players who average double figure scoring, with the high man being Jae’Sean Tate and his 13.8 per night. In only three games this season has Tate failed to score at least 10, and he’s currently riding a streak of double-doubles in two of his last three games.
His game-winning streaking layup as time wound down on Tuesday night against Penn State was just another example of the Pickerington native’s national treasure-ness. The Buckeyes’ chances for beating the Hoosiers on Saturday will be greatly improved if Tate can continue his strong play.
Much has been made, and rightfully so, about Ohio State’s ball security issues this season. The Buckeyes rank 194th in the country (out of 347) with 399 miscues. But that figure pales in comparison to what Indiana has done. Head coach Tom Crean has seen his crew turn it over an astounding 460 times, which is 322nd in Division I, and could help explain how they have dropped six of their last seven games.
17 & 4
Sophomore JaQuan Lyle has seen a reduction in minutes of late due to some injury issues, trouble with turnovers, and the improved play of C.J. Jackson, but in the past two games he has been a critical part of Ohio State’s wins. In both the upset victory over Wisconsin and the escape against Penn State, Lyle gave the Buckeyes 17 points and four assists, and committed a total of three miscues. He’s also an Indiana native, so seeing his in-state school should provide a little extra incentive to keep the good play going.
Cast of characters
This preview has had a lot about Ohio State’s lone senior, so let’s keep it going. Loving has been playing possibly the best basketball of his career down the stretch for the Buckeyes this season, scoring in double figures in eight of his last 10 games heading into Saturday. The improvement has been beneficial, as he is sixth in the Big Ten in minutes played, and he’s finally making those minutes count. This is his last regular season chance to make a positive impression in scarlet and gray, and Ohio State needs the same high-level he’s shown the past month to pull off the win.
Thompson has been in a little bit of a slump numbers-wise the past handful of games, yet still ranks second in the Big Ten in rebounding and nearly averages a double-double. After a string of seven games in which he notched five double-doubles and narrowly missed a sixth, the redshirt junior has scored in double figures only twice in the last four times out, and hasn’t grabbed more than eight rebounds. For the Buckeyes to win the day, Thompson must control the paint.
James Blackmon, Jr.
After soaring as high as No. 3 in the national polls early in the season, Indiana’s 16-14 record and 6-11 mark in conference play are especially disappointing. Those struggles cannot be pinned on Blackmon, however, who has come back from knee surgery a season ago to lead the Hoosiers and rank sixth in the Big Ten with 16.8 points per game. The Marion, Indiana native also leads the conference in three-point field goals made, so closing out on him at the arc will be a priority.
Bryant tested the NBA draft waters a year ago after averaging 11 points and nine rebounds a game as a freshman, but hasn’t seen a terribly dramatic uptick in his numbers as a sophomore. The 6-foot-10 Bryant gives Crean 12.8 points and seven boards a night, but after a 31-point outburst against the Nittany Lions to begin February, hasn’t hit that scoring average in six of his seven games.
How to watch
Game time: 12:00 p.m. ET
Radio: 97.1 FM
TV: ESPN (Dave Flemming and Dan Dakich)