For most of the last 12 minutes of the game at Illinois, Ohio State coach Thad Matta stuck with three players on the court who had combined for three points in the previous three games.
Backup center Trey McDonald’s shift lasted 11 minutes, 57 seconds. Backup forward Marc Loving was on the floor for 11:17. Backup guard Amedeo Della Valle logged 9:25.
“We rode those guys,” Matta said. “They were dog tired and I didn’t care. I was leaving them out there.”
Matta could not very well have benched them after they scored all the points in a 12-0 run that lengthened the Buckeyes’ lead from one to 13 points on their way to a 48-39 victory on Saturday at the State Farm Center, their first victory on Illinois’ court since 2011.
McDonald leaped, caught and dunked an offensive rebound in one motion, Della Valle sliced through Illinois’ defense for a layup and Loving scored eight straight points to cap the run, which gave Ohio State a 42-29 lead with 5:25 left.
The Fighting Illini cut its deficit to five with a minute left before Ohio State snuffed their hopes by making four straight free throws after missing four on its previous three possessions.
“What you saw with Trey, what you saw with Amedeo, those are the things that we need them to do,” Matta said.
The Buckeyes also need more games like that from Loving, whose three baskets were his first in seven games. He had been scoreless the previous four games.
“Not going through this before, like in high school, I just had to get more (shooting) reps in on my off time and on my days off,” said Loving, who was Ohio Mr. Basketball last season at Toledo St. John’s. “It feels good to see the ball go in the rim. After you see one go in, being a scorer, you feel like you can put multiple in.”
Loving credited his teammates and coaches for staying with him.
“Aaron (Craft) and the older guys, like Sam (Thompson) and Shannon (Scott), they try to keep the younger guys’ heads in the game at all times, and I really needed that,” said Loving, whose last field goal had been on Jan.?20 in a loss at Nebraska. “And with having a staff like Coach Matta (has) that has confidence in you, it rubs off on you, and you have confidence in yourself and your abilities.”
Loving had a strong start to the Big Ten season, with 13 points in a home victory against Nebraska and 10 in an overtime loss at Michigan State, before slumping. It would help the Buckeyes’ hit-and-miss offense if he can begin to consistently knock down perimeter shots.
“We’ve got five games left (in the Big Ten season) and we need to see that from him,” Craft said. “He can’t be inconsistent down the stretch. He doesn’t need to go on an 8-0 run by himself in games to come, but to continue to be aggressive, look for his shot.”
By Bob Baptist - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
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