Sports Journalism Blog

By Zach Wagner | @zachwagner22

Sports Capital Journalism Program

INDIANAPOLIS — Coming out of Thursday’s 79-75 second-round Big Ten Tournament win over Penn State, Ohio State coach Thad Matta looked and sounded as if he had just finished playing in the game. His face was cherry red. His shirt was covered in perspiration. His voice was scratchy. Matta wasn’t hiding the fact that he knows his current Ohio State squad is in the position of having to fight for every inch that can be won on the court.

Fortunately for Matta, he has often had a group of guys willing to go the extra mile for him.

“It’s funny, because …… in the 12 years of this tournament, our margin of victory in our first game is probably about four points,” said Matta. “We got what we came for, even though we didn’t play that well.”   

The seventh-seeded Buckeyes (20-12) move on to face No. 2 Michigan State at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Friday afternoon, with a spot in the NCAA tournament still a possibility.     

Partly because of the season-ending loss of sophomore forward Jae’Sean Tate, who recently underwent surgery for a torn labrum in his left shoulder, Ohio State’s bench had struggled to take some of the pressure off the starters. That trend continued Thursday night as the Ohio State bench contributed just 5 points.

“We’ve got to do better,” said sophomore guard Kam Williams, who scored 5 points. “And I think we will. It’s just a matter of everyone getting comfortable with their roles.”

Marc Loving, JaQuan Lyle and Keita Bates-Diop combined for 60 points as well as 110 minutes played, which epitomizes everything Matta has preached all year about fighting towards the finish line.

“You can’t pout,” said Matta. “You can’t complain. You got to get on to the next situation.”

The Buckeyes allowed Penn State (16-16) to shoot 51 percent from the field in the first half on the way to a 37-34 Nittany Lion lead. At halftime, the message was made clear to the Ohio State players.

“In the second half we wanted to make them uncomfortable and make them take as tough (a) shot as possible,” Loving said. “They still got some in, but I feel like we did (a) pretty good job on that.”   

Loving finished the game with 24 points, with 13 coming from the free throw line. He shot 4-9 from the field and contributed four rebounds to his team’s total of 41.

Down the stretch, it was Ohio State’s ability to hit free throws that ultimately helped seal the deal for the Buckeyes. Their 39 free throw attempts tied for the third most in a Big Ten Tournament game.

Penn State coach Pat Chambers believed his team’s inability to guard Ohio State’s wing players without fouling ultimately did them in.

“Lyle, I thought one-on-one really hurt us,” said Chambers. “And then we’re trying not to foul, and I thought we lost our aggressiveness because we were in foul trouble most of the day.”

“And 39 free-throws says it all.”

The Buckeyes were defeated twice by Michigan State, 81-62 at Columbus on Feb. 23 and 91-76 at East Lansing on March 5. With Ohio State’s third meeting with the Spartans less than 24 hours away as the players spoke in their dressing room, they insisted fatigue would not be an issue on Friday.

“We’ve worked all year for this chance to play our way into where we want to be,” said Williams. “Being tired won’t be an issue as much as the fact that we’re playing an incredible basketball team tomorrow.”

Ohio State has won six out of its last eight games, but both of those losses came against the Spartans, who are ranked second in the nation. 

“They get through adversity real quick, get to the next plays quick, and they shift defenses real well on the offensive end,” Lyle said.

Matta also knows that during this time of the year, crazy things are happening.

“Anything can happen now,” he said.