OSU freshman guard A.J. Harris (12) passes the ball to a teammate in a game against Rutgers on Jan. 13 at the Schottenstein Center. OSU won, 94-68. Credit: Samantha Hollingshead | Photo Editor

OSU freshman guard A.J. Harris (12) passes the ball to a teammate in a game against Rutgers on Jan. 13 at the Schottenstein Center. OSU won, 94-68. Credit: Samantha Hollingshead | Photo Editor

The Ohio State men’s basketball team is set to head east to square off against third-ranked Maryland on Saturday.

Both teams are tied for third place in the Big Ten with 4-1 marks, making this a showdown for sole possession of third place in the conference. The Buckeyes enter the matchup with a 12-6 record, having won 10 of their last 12 games.

The Scarlet and Gray have been playing considerably better basketball over the past three weeks after a nightmarish start to the season. That improvement, perhaps, could be attributed to continued improved performance from freshman point guard JaQuan Lyle, who is coming off his first career triple-double in the Buckeyes’ 94-68 win over Rutgers. In the game, Lyle scored 16 points and 12 rebounds and 11 assists for the fifth triple-double in school history. And in the game prior against Indiana, though OSU was blown out, Lyle was the lone bright spot, scoring 29 points.

Despite carding two consecutive big performances, OSU coach Thad Matta told Lyle he doesn’t want him to be satisfied with statistics.

“My biggest thing with him, and I told him this, I want him to continue to prepare,” Matta said. “I want him to continue to work hard and embrace the challenge of playing college basketball.”

On the year, Lyle is averaging 10.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game. However, the focus will turn to Lyle’s defense, as it could prove to be the key for the Buckeyes to steal a win on the road.

Lyle will have his hands full guarding one of college basketball’s top players: sophomore guard Melo Trimble.

Matta said his team can’t afford to surrender easy buckets to Trimble.

“(Trimble is) good, he’s shifty, and you know the other thing, and he’d probably be the first to tell you, he’s got good players around him,” Matta said. “He’s got some veterans, we’ve got to use our size as much as we can and keep them off the foul line and as much as we can make them make tough twos.”

OSU’s leading scorer and sole upperclassman, junior forward Marc Loving, said the Buckeyes will have to watch Trimble closely if they want to win.

“He really thrives in the moment,” Loving said. “I think last week he hit a game winner. So, just contesting all of his shots, trying to make it as tough as possible, but, like you said, he’s a pretty good player, so he’s going to hit some tough shots.”

The 6-foot-3 Trimble is averaging 14.1 points, 5.5 assists and 2.5 rebounds per game, and he is on the early watch list for the conference’s player of the year award.

The Terrapins, who enter the game with a 15-2 overall record, are the No. 2 shooting team in the Big Ten, averaging an astounding 50.5 percent clip from the floor. Maryland also is the best free-throw shooting team in the Big Ten, averaging 76 percent as a team for the season thus far.

To impede the Terrapin’s high-powered offense, Matta said there are three keys for his team.

“We’ve got to do a great job transition-wise defensively, attempting not to give them anything easy,” Matta said. “I think our post defense has got to be on point and then obviously doing a great job of trying to contain (Trimble) as much as we possibly can.”

OSU is no stranger to upsetting a higher-ranked opponent this season, as earlier this season it took down NCAA heavyweight Kentucky, defeating the Wildcats 74-67 on Dec. 19, in Brooklyn, New York. However, Loving said the team is not heading into the game looking to dethrone another Goliath.

“We don’t really look at it as a giant-slayer type of thing,” Loving said. “Preseason we weren’t picked to win anything, so that should be enough motivation, and a chip on your shoulder to be able to go out and play as hard as possible.”

Road woes

Thus far, road games have been tough for the Buckeyes, as the team has lost two of three games as the visiting team. Matta said in order for the team to be in the hunt for a Big Ten title, OSU has to play better on the road.

“Without a doubt, these are the games you’ve got to win,” Matta said. “You’ve got to sneak a couple of these. Heck of a lot easier said than done.”

Last Sunday, when OSU lost to Indiana in resounding fashion, that was a road contest. Matta said his fingers are crossed that the team that wore scarlet and gray in Bloomington, Indiana, does not show itself this time around in College Park, Maryland.  

“Honestly,” he said, “I hope we’re a better team than (last) Sunday on the road.”

Familiar surroundings

For OSU redshirt sophomore guard Kam Williams, this road game will be a homecoming of sorts. The four-star recruit from Baltimore played his high school basketball at Mount St. Joseph’s High School, which is about an hour away from College Park. Williams said he is approaching this game the same as any other this season, despite the connection to his home state.

“We know when we go into someone else’s arena, it’s just us against the world,” Williams said. “Nobody expected us to be in this position, to have a good record going into the Big Ten, or in the Big Ten. So, we just look at it as a regular game and another opportunity to get better as a team.”

Tipoff against Maryland is set for noon on Saturday.