The Ohio State men’s basketball team took the court on Sunday in its annual exhibition game. This was Buckeye Nation’s first look at a team trying to get back to the NCAA tournament after missing the tournament last year for the first time in seven years. OSU coach Thad Matta played all four of his freshmen in a first half filled with unnecessary fouls and sloppy offensive play.
However, in the second half, OSU used a 12-2 run near the 12-minute mark, and 44 points in the paint to roll to an 85-67 victory over Division II opponent Walsh.
“We couldn’t get a run going because of the fouls. We weren’t as smart as we needed to be in terms of our defense,” Matta said. “The first half was really an odd — there was no flow to the game on both sides … that’s something we have to do a much, much better job of.”
When the starting lineups were announced, many could have guessed the starters from point guard to power forward. But freshman Micah Potter earned the surprise start at center over redshirt junior center Trevor Thompson.
The freshman from Mentor, Ohio, who played his final season of prep basketball at Montverde Academy in Florida, played 16 minutes, scoring six points and grabbing five rebounds. Potter also showed no hesitation in his ability to step outside of the arc and try a few threes. He converted one of three attempts from three-point territory.
“Coach Matta’s big thing this past week in practice, and also before the game, was to play hard,” Potter said. “I think we can all play hard and do things better. We did a decent job in the second half. Definitely had some good energy, giving some confidence going to Navy on Friday.”
Behind sophomore starting point guard JaQuan Lyle — who was the game’s leading scorer with 14 points — was sophomore junior-college transfer point guard C.J. Jackson. On Thursday, junior forward Keita Bates-Diop said Jackson’s IQ of the game and his intensity separate him from many other backup point guards. Against Walsh, Jackson played 16 minutes and assisted on six field goals without turning the ball over.
Jackson had one stretch of play where he threw a crisp alley-oop pass to senior forward Marc Loving, stole the inbound pass and scored, then he got an offensive rebound and scored another layup. Jackson also had a breakaway opportunity squandered where he missed a wide-open dunk.
“My legs deactivated on that, honestly,” Jackson said with a laugh. “All that matters is that we got the win. It’s not like it’s going to happen again.”
Matta couldn’t confirm Potter would be the team’s starting center when the season kicks off against Navy on Friday, but credited Potter and Jackson with earning their playing time due to effort in practice.
“(C.J.) and Micah have probably been the two most consistent players in terms of every single day you know what you’re going to get from those two guys,” Matta said. “Freshman, sophomore whatever … we got to look at a guy like C.J. Jackson and how he played and that’s got to become more guys doing that … Does he know the system great? No, but is he out there playing? Yeah.”
Junior captain forward Jae’Sean Tate returned to the court for the first time since late February, when he was ruled out for the season with a right shoulder injury. He underwent surgery on a torn labrum in his right shoulder a few days later.
The game started with Tate running the floor, beating his man off the dribble from the top of the key and finishing with his left hand off of the glass. Later, at the 15-minute mark of the second half, Tate intercepted a pass from out of bounds and finished with a dunk.
As was the case last year, the Buckeyes’ success will largely be dictated by Tate’s success. He played 21 minutes and scored 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting with four rebounds and four assists.
“No question. He’s been as good as he can possibly be,” Matta said. “He’s getting in better shape. He might be tired sometimes, but no, there’s been no issues with (the shoulder).
With four coaching changes, a class of four new players and three transfers in the offseason, OSU showed signs of youth, but the Buckeyes also displayed a quick pace to its offense throughout much of the first half. OSU returned its top six leading scorers from a season ago, five of which were the top scorers on Sunday — Loving was tied as the sixth leading scorer with six points.
Lyle led the team with 14 points, and redshirt junior guard Kam Williams and Bates-Diop followed with 13 and 12 points, respectively. A storyline that Matta hopes can continue leading up to the opening tip on Friday at 9 p.m. in Annapolis.