Buckeyes falter down stretch in upset bid … Ohio State can’t find go-to guy on young team … NCAA tourney hopes take another hit.
Columbus – Ohio State had a chance to notch a rare marquee win against visiting Maryland on Sunday, a victory that would give its flagging NCAA tourney hopes a much-needed jolt.
But while the Buckeyes managed to put up a fight, they ultimately were undone by the shortcoming that has plagued them all season: Ugly offense.
The eighth-ranked Terrapins pulled away for a 66-61 victory Sunday, but they hardly looked dominant. They became stagnant with the ball in the second half and looked like a typical road team getting spooked in an inhospitable environment.
But the Buckeyes let them off the hook. They consistently were able to get defensive stops but couldn’t cash in on the other end. They shot 35 percent from the field, 5-for-15 on 3-pointers and 14-of-24 from the foul line. That won’t get it done.
The Big Ten is not its usual robust self this season because some of its traditional stalwarts like Ohio State (14-9 overall and 6-4 in the conference) are having off years.
You look up and down the Buckeyes’ lineup, and you can’t find anyone you can count on to deliver crunch-time buckets. They can flummox opponents with their athleticism and length on defense, but they’re held back by feeble offense.
Coach Thad Matta chose to accentuate the positive afterward — and perhaps that was warranted given the Buckeyes lost to this same team, 100-65, on the road just 15 days earlier.
“We did battle,” he said. “As I told the guys, this is the type of effort we need. Now, we’ve got to put the thinking component into it. We’ve got to keep getting better.”
Before we go any further, we should point out the Buckeyes have no seniors and just one junior. And had D’Angelo Russell not opted to go pro after his freshman season last year — the No. 2 overall pick — we might be having a different discussion.
But there isn’t a player on the roster that causes the opposition to shudder.
Forward Marc Loving, the lone junior and the team’s leading scorer, is in the midst of a horrid slump. In his last five games, he’s 13-for-50 from the field and 6-for-24 on 3’s. And the “bigs” are raw and unproductive.
But the biggest dilemma Matta faces is what to do at point guard.
JaQuan Lyle is a promising 6-5 freshman, and he looked like he might be the answer as a floor leader when he recorded a triple-double against Rutgers on Jan. 13 with 16 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists.
It was only the fifth triple-double in Ohio State history. Evan Turner did it twice, while Dennis Hopson and Russell each had one, although it should be noted that assists didn’t become an official statistic until 1983-84 (you think John Havlicek and Jerry Lucas might have had a few in their day?)
But Lyle has faded of late, and he might be more of a two guard anyway.
Matta has started A.J. Harris, a 5-8 freshman, the last three games, but the coach doesn’t seem to trust the Dunbar product in crucial moments. Harris hit a pair of 3-pointers early against Maryland (19-3, 8-2) but played only sporadically after that.
Lyle finished with one point, one assist and two turnovers. And Matta seems to be running out of patience.
“It’s the old saying: Playing better is an option. He’s got to help himself a little bit in terms of what we need done and how we need it done,” he said. “You look at how (well) he’s played through the course of the season in stretches — that’s where we’ve all got to be.”
The Buckeyes have only one win over an RPI top-100 team with three losses outside top-100. But while their NCAA tourney hopes are barely flickering, they still have the potential to polish their résumé with two games left against Michigan State, plus Iowa and Michigan at home.
Still, they can’t expect to do any damage without addressing their UGGGHHH-ly offense.
“We just have to make sure we’re on the same page,” said Jae’Sean Tate, who had a team-high 16 points. “When we do get the stop, we can’t let up.
“It’s a two-sided game. And even though we’re playing good defense, we kind of slowed up the tempo on offense, and that hurt us.”