Maryland-Ohio St. Preview

Ohio State coach Thad Matta doesn’t change his mind frequently.

Yet in the past few weeks he’s made two significant switches.

First, he abandoned the 2-3 zone that his team had played for most of the first 13 games, changing to a man-to-man defense.

Then, he went to a more mobile but decidedly shorter lineup.

He’s uncertain just how long he might stick with a lineup where the tallest player for long stretches is 6-foot-7.

"Do we stay with it? I don’t know," he said while putting his Buckeyes (16-5, 5-3 Big Ten) through their final paces before Thursday night’s home game against No. 16 Maryland (18-3, 6-2). "It’ll be interesting to see just how it unfolds."

Anthony Lee, a 6-9 Temple transfer who was basically the third-team center, has started the last two games. But Matta has also replaced Lee for 6-7 Marc Loving for long stretches of time, sacrificing rebounding for versatility, speed and quickness.

Matta also put 6-4 freshman Jae’Sean Tate into the starting lineup, giving him room to create havoc on the front line.

The Buckeyes are uncertain if Matta’s version of small ball is just something he has pulled out of his tool box or if it’s something he’s committed to utilizing from now on. The coach isn’t saying.

”We have a lot of lineups that can be really effective on the court,” point guard Shannon Scott said. ”For the past two games, (the other team) didn’t really play big, 6-11 guys at center. They’ve been playing 6-8, athletic people. So the lineup we had the last game and before that just shows what we can really take advantage of.

”I can see a small lineup that we can always go into in games. But I don’t think our big men are not going to play. They’re still going to have a big role on our team.”

The Buckeyes have been led by one freshman all season, though another has made his presence felt more recently. D’Angelo Russell, the reigning Big Ten player (and also freshman) of the week, has been a phenomenon. He’s averaging 19.4 points – the best in the nation among freshmen – and has hit for 27.5 points a contest in the Buckeyes’ meager two-game winning streak.

Then there’s Tate, who is 16 of 18 over his last three home games and scored a season-high 20 in Sunday’s 82-70 win over then-No. 23 Indiana.

The Terrapins are also led by a spectacular freshman in Melo Trimble, who is averaging 16.3 points. As the conference’s only team with three players scoring at least 13.5 per game, Maryland isn’t quite as reliant on Trimble as Ohio State is on Russell, however. Jake Layman averages 14.3 points while Dez Wells is at 13.6.

Trimble had 27 points in Sunday’s 68-67 home win over Northwestern. Wells scored 17 and had the game-winner on a putback with 1.4 seconds left as Maryland rallied from an 11-point halftime deficit.

"This shows that this group is full of winners," coach Mark Turgeon said. "We have a lot of basketball ahead of us, but they never give up and figure out ways to win."

Maryland allowed the Wildcats to shoot 54.2 percent, three days after letting Indiana shoot 60.0 in an 89-70 road loss. The Terrapins, who had limited opponents to a Big Ten-best 37.7 percent shooting in their first 19 games, are up against a Buckeyes squad that has shot 57.5 percent in its last two.

"We definitely have been struggling defensively and it is something we need to work on," Layman said. "We take a lot of pride in our defense but I think we have room to improve."

Ohio State won the last meeting 76-60 in Columbus on Dec. 4, 2013, and leads the all-time series 4-2.