COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Another returning starter is gone from the Ohio State basketball team, casting even more doubt on whether coach Thad Matta can turn around a program that just slogged through a second straight disappointing season.
The school on Saturday announced that JaQuan Lyle, a rising junior and the team’s third leading scorer from last season, had quit the team last month. That came to light after Lyle’s arrest early Saturday on misdemeanor charges of public intoxication, criminal mischief and disorderly conduct in his Evansville, Indiana, hometown. He hasn’t commented publicly on the charges or his reasons for leaving Ohio State.
Lyle, a 6-foot-5 guard who averaged 11.4 points per game in a season that saw the Buckeyes finish without even an NIT invitation, is the fifth and final member of a 2015 recruiting class to depart. The other four previously transferred out, each saying Ohio State wasn’t a good fit for them.
Ohio State didn’t give a reason for Lyle’s departure, but it leaves the team without another reliable starter.
Forward Marc Loving ran out of eligibility, and 7-foot center Trevor Thompson headed out early for the NBA. In addition, Kam Williams, a rising senior guard who averaged 30 minutes and 9.4 points per game, declared for the draft but hasn’t hired an agent, meaning he could return if the outcome doesn’t suit him. David Bell, a 6-foot-9 center who saw little playing time, announced his transfer earlier.
The good news for Matta: Leading scorer Jae’Sean Tate (14.3 ppg) will be back to anchor the starting lineup. Keita Bates-Diop, a talented 6-7 forward who missed most the season to a leg injury, should return at full strength.
Micah Potter, who played in 30 games as a freshman last season and showed brief flashes of brilliance, likely will start at center because he’s the only one left at that position among returning players. Besides guard C.J. Jackson and forward Andre Wesson — bit players from last year’s 17-15 team — there is no proven experience or depth.
Ohio State has just nine players on scholarship out of an allowed maximum of 13, including incoming freshmen Kaleb Wesson (Andre’s brother) and Braxton Beverly.
Matta had trouble last season explaining why his players weren’t ready to perform with the same effort in every game. The wildly inconsistent performances included an embarrassing one-and-done loss to Rutgers in the Big Ten Tournament.
Matta endured the worst season in his 17 years as a head coach, winning fewer than 20 games for the first time and failing to take an eligible team to the postseason. Afterward, he acknowledged there were “daily battles” trying to get his players ready.
Last season led to the expected consternation among Ohio State faithful, many calling for an end to the Matta era. That led athletic director Gene Smith to issue a statement expressing confidence in his coach.
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