COLUMBUS, Ohio — Thad Matta is not one to change defenses nor starting lineups midcourse. Typically, the Ohio State coach finds one he likes before a season begins, rides it from start to finish and, ideally, refines it along the way.
Already this season, though, Matta has shelved the zone defense he played for the first 14 games and installed a man-to-man in hopes it would draw more energy and effort from his players. It did, but not for long.
The past two weekends, as they have in all five of their losses, the Buckeyes dug themselves double-digit deficits in the first halves at Indiana and Iowa and never regained the upper hand.
On Monday, on the Big Ten coaches’ weekly teleconference, Matta was asked if promoting ball-of-fire freshman forward Jae’Sean Tate to the starting lineup might help, so the Buckeyes get the benefit of his energy at the start of games. Matta said it was a possibility.
Nothing has changed going into Thursday’s game at Northwestern, the Buckeyes’ fourth on the road in their past five.
“There is a possibility of a change,” Matta reiterated Wednesday before the Buckeyes practiced and then left for Chicago. “We’ve had three very, very rough practices in terms of competitiveness. Today will be a little bit more of the same.”
The presumed lineup change Matta is considering is inserting Tate for sophomore Marc Loving.
At 6-foot-7, Loving is three inches taller, a better perimeter shooter and the team’s best frontline rebounder in Big Ten games. But Loving’s aggression comes and goes — he didn’t have a rebound in 31 minutes at Iowa while Tate had six in 22 — and his shooting percentages from the field and free-throw line have plummeted below 35 percent since conference play began.
Tate’s aggression also has gotten him to the line more than Loving.
Given what each player can bring to the court, Matta acknowledged that he’s weighing whether he thinks there is more reward than risk in making a change.
“The biggest thing we’re talking about is attempting to get off to a decent start,” Matta said, “not even saying we’re scoring, but maybe getting a couple shot attempts at the basket the first few possessions.”
That last part was sarcasm, a reference to Saturday’s game in which the Buckeyes spotted Iowa a 9-0 lead in less than two minutes by turning the ball over on their first three possessions. Ohio State wasn’t closer than four points again.
“We’re getting down and playing catch-up the whole time,” said point guard Shannon Scott, who had two of the turnovers. “I’m not sure in any of the losses we’ve had if we were actually winning in the second half. We know we’ve got to come out ready to play if we want to win.”
Northwestern has lost four consecutive games, the past three by seven or fewer points, one in overtime. The Wildcats had a chance to force overtime again on Saturday at Michigan, but a last-second shot banged off the rim.
Three of Ohio State’s past four games at Northwestern have been decided by three points or less, including a 72-69 defeat in 2009, the Buckeyes’ only loss to the Wildcats since 1998.
“Par for the course in this conference. Every game comes down to the wire,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said of his team’s recent losses. “We just haven’t quite been able to get over that hump in the last minute of games.
“I’m really proud of how my team’s playing. I feel like we’re getting better with each game. There’s a lot of spirit and a lot of fight in our locker room, and we’re going to continue to push forward.
This article was written by Bob Baptist from The Columbus Dispatch and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.