Ohio State coach Thad Matta stated multiple times this season it is somewhat of a gut feeling when he elects to keep JaQuan Lyle in the game at point guard during crunch time rather than A.J. Harris even if Lyle is struggling.
And in the Buckeyes' 65-62 overtime win at Nebraska on Saturday night, Matta rode with Lyle again for the majority of the second half despite the fact his freshman point guard was scoreless at halftime and 0-for-3 from the field. This time, though, the move paid off.
Lyle finished with a game-high 19 points to lead the way for Ohio State. All of those, obviously, came in the second half and overtime. Lyle had six in the extra period for the Buckeyes and scored the go-ahead bucket with 31 seconds to play when he drove right by a Nebraska defender and scored at the rim.
That's why Lyle is so valuable to this team. He is the one player who can consistently create his own offense in the half court by beating defenders off the dribble. Even when he's struggling to finish at the rim, his ability to get past defenders creates some space for the rest of the offense.
Lyle was vital in Ohio State's win Saturday and he'll need to be just as good going forward as he was in the second half and overtime against the Huskers. Consistency has been his biggest issue so far this season, but Matta has repeatedly shown faith in his young freshman. On Saturday, Lyle delivered in a big way in a game the Buckeyes simply couldn't afford to lose.
It wasn't all Lyle for Ohio State on Saturday, though, as Jae'Sean Tate came up big again much like the sophomore forward has during this current four-game win streak. Tate scored 15 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in the win over the Huskers. During the Buckeyes' four-game winning streak, Tate is averaging 15 points and nine rebounds per game.
But as we talk about all the time with Tate, his impact was more than the box score. He has physical limitations — being a 6-foot-4 power forward in the Big Ten is quite difficult — and it doesn't always look pretty when he's out there, but he's quite effective in the way he plays.
Tate made a couple of nice reads out of double teams to find open cutters and get Ohio State a few easy baskets in a game that didn't have many of them, and you can always count on him to play hard and Saturday was no exception.
He still tries to do too much at times, but there's no question Tate is the heart and soul of this team and sometimes you just have to live with some of it. The payoff is well worth it.
This was far from a pretty win for Ohio State and the Buckeyes will need to play much better in upcoming games against Michigan State and Iowa if they want to win those games.
Only four players scored for Ohio State — Lyle with 19, Keita Bates-Diop with 16 and Tate and Marc Loving had 15 — and the Buckeyes committed 17 turnovers. Ohio State shot just 39 percent from the field and was only 3-for-14 from behind the 3-point line.
But perhaps the biggest issue in Saturday's win was how Ohio State performed on the defensive glass. The Buckeyes won the overall rebounding battle 49-40, but 19 of those rebounds for Nebraska came on the offensive end. That's far too many.
The Huskers missed 51 field goals on the evening, yes, so there were an absurd amount of rebounds to be had, but Ohio State allowed Nebraska to grab way too many of them. The Huskers made them count, too, as they had 20 second-chance points in the game.
The Buckeyes have been a pretty solid rebounding team all season so this was a bit of a surprise and I certainly wouldn't call it concerning going forward, but with Michigan State — one of the nation's top rebounding teams year in and year out — coming to town Tuesday, it's certainly something Ohio State needs to tighten up.
We have discussed Ohio State's NCAA tournament hopes at length here, and while many thought the Buckeyes didn't have much of a shot they couldn't completely be eliminated from the discussion because of what was remaining at the end of the schedule.
After Ohio State lost to Wisconsin a few weeks back, it became clear the Buckeyes could not lose any of their next four games if they wanted to still be in consideration for the tourney with a chance to play themselves in. Well, Ohio State did just that and now the brutal three-game stretch to end the season is here.
Next week, the Buckeyes host Michigan State on Tuesday and Iowa on Sunday. Ohio State closes out its regular-season the following weekend in a road game against the Spartans.
As things stand right now, the Buckeyes are 18-10 overall and 10-5 in the Big Ten, but still only have marquee wins over Kentucky and Michigan. I think Ohio State needs to win two of these final three heading into the Big Ten tournament to get itself on the NCAA tournament bubble.
It's go time for the Buckeyes.