JaQuan Lyle's Development, Relationship With Thad Matta is Crucial to the Immediate Future of Ohio State's Program

By Tim Shoemaker on March 13, 2016 at 7:45 am
JaQuan Lyle launches a 3-pointer earlier this season.

INDIANAPOLIS — JaQuan Lyle sat slouched in a chair in front of his locker inside Ohio State’s locker room moments after the Buckeyes’ 81-54 loss to Michigan State in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament, ice packs on each knee and his iPhone in his right hand. As the doors opened and a large media contingent was allowed inside, Lyle straightened up in his chair and prepared himself for what was next.

Lyle knew the media would head toward him first. He knew what was coming, knew he would have to answer several questions about what transpired in the hours prior during Ohio State’s third blowout loss at the hands of the Spartans in as many weeks.

“I was just embarrassed because I felt like Coach [Thad] Matta has gone to bat for us all year long and in the biggest game all year I let him down,” Lyle said midway through his interview session. “I was just embarrassed for myself and that’s the bottom line.”

Lyle’s embarrassment stemmed from his actions on the floor Friday night. His frustration level was high and he showed some signs of immaturity as the Buckeyes were being throttled by one of the best teams in all of college basketball.

There was the water bottle slam in the first half that caused the game to be delayed for a few minutes — Lyle was fortunate not to receive a technical foul. There was the poor body language after committing a couple of turnovers. There was some complaining to the officials when he didn’t receive a couple of foul calls he felt he should have.

But things ultimately reached a boiling point early in the second half when Ohio State's freshman point guard says he forgot to call a timeout that Matta told him to in the middle of an 8-0 run by the Spartans to open the second stanza. And when the Buckeyes finally got the timeout called they wanted, Matta laid into Lyle directly in front of the bench before addressing the entire team. Matta pulled Lyle aside, got red in the face and yelled into his ear for almost a minute.

“As y’all can see, we’re 30-something games in and it was the same old me and I wasn’t ready to play this game,” Lyle said of the exchange. “He chewed me out and I deserved every bit of it.”

These things happen in the game of basketball. There are coach-player exchanges all of the time. Frustrations are shown and that’s not out of the ordinary. Lyle is a freshman and he briefly acted like one. To his credit, Lyle owned his actions postgame.

“That’s nothing that me and Coach Matta is going to hold onto,” Lyle said. “I’m sure we’ll have a long talk tonight, but that’s nothing that we’re going to hold onto.”

Added Matta: “We’re probably making a little bit more out of it [than we need to]."

This wasn’t the first time there’s been some discussion between the two — “We have talks like that all the time, maybe not as heated,” Lyle said — and it’s far from unusual for a coach and a player to have such interaction. Again, that's part of the deal.

But for Matta and Lyle and the current situation of Ohio State basketball, it could be a defining moment for the program in the next couple of seasons.

The Buckeyes won’t be playing in the NCAA tournament for the first time in eight years and that’s not overly surprising when you consider where this team was back in November. What’s important here is how this team — which has no seniors and only one junior on it this season — develops from here.

All of that starts with Lyle.

Ohio State has plenty of young talent and it has shown flashes of its potential throughout the year. No player has illustrated that more than Lyle, who has displayed an ability to take over games — like the Buckeyes’ Big Ten tournament win over Penn State — but has also disappeared at times.

As the point guard and the leader on the floor of this group going forward, Lyle’s progression is critical for him as an individual player, for the team and for the program.

“He’s the head of our snake; he’s our point guard,” said Ohio State sophomore forward Jae’Sean Tate, who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury prior to the Buckeyes’ first loss to Michigan State. “There’s nothing else to even say about that. When he goes, we go.”

What's equally as important as Lyle's development is his relationship with Matta.

“It’s huge,” Matta said. “I always say this, especially with a point guard, it’s a two-way street. I look at just the overall body of work and he’s done some great things.”

“We have a great relationship,” added Lyle. “I can take that because I know deep down inside he cares for me and he wants the best for me. I took it in. It was just embarrassing for myself because he deserves more from me and I just let him down today.”

Lyle’s freshman season is a bit like one of Matta’s former players, Evan Turner. It’s risky to compare someone to one of the all-time great players in Ohio State’s history, but Turner’s freshman season had some similarities to Lyle’s. Both were super talented players, but both struggled at times with inconsistency and maturity. Again, though, we’re talking about freshmen.

Turner eventually figured things out. The question now becomes whether or not Lyle can follow suit.

“He’s got a chance to be a heck of a basketball player,” Matta said, “and it’s my job to get it out of him.”

The future of Ohio State basketball could hinge on just that.

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