COLUMBUS, Ohio-Sam Thompson got up from his black chair on the Ohio State bench, walked to the scorer's table, and took his warm-up jacket off. After a dead ball, a ref blew his whistle, and the junior forward came into the game, replacing junior guard Shannon Scott. There were 14 minutes left in the first half.
Roughly a minute later, Marc Loving did the same thing. The freshman forward entered the contest, taking junior forward LaQuinton Ross' spot on the court.
A minute after that, Amedeo Della Valle and Trey McDonald followed suit. The sophomore guard and junior forward replaced senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. and junior center Amir Williams, respectively.
This was Jan. 4, during the No. 3 ranked Buckeyes game against Nebraska in Columbus. Not even eight minutes had gone by, and already, nine Ohio State players had seen time on the court.
For many of Thad Matta's previous teams, what happened Saturday would have been rare, if not impossible. But not this season. Through 15 games, each of which Ohio State has won, nine players are averaging double-figure minutes this season.
"I'm comfortable with my rotation," Matta said. "Every game poses a different scenario in terms of what we might need. It's great to see when guys come in and can contribute."
During the 84-53 victory against Nebraska, the bench not only contributed, it was potentially the biggest reason why Ohio State came away with the win.
"They did a tremendous job," Matta said. "Everyone looks at the stats and how many points did he get and how many rebounds did he get, there's a lot of other intangible things that those guys did today."
Della Valle led all scorers with 15 points. Loving chipped in with 13. Loving also credited Della Valle following the contest with making a lot of plays on the defensive end that don't show up in the box score. Nebraska coach Tim Miles said he planned on trying to attack the sophomore guard when the Huskers had the ball, and that he was surprised by how well the Italy native responded.
"I thought we'd do a better job on (Della Valle). I thought we could get to him," Miles said. "I like Loving. I think he's a really good player. Not getting to Della Valle really hurt us."
It's highly unlikely that Saturday will be the last time a bench player for Ohio State is a thorn in the side of an opponent. Moving forward, Matta said he expects to continue with the nine-man rotation.
"I think that I'm obviously comfortable with it," Matta said.
Can you remember a season in the past, coach, when your rotation involved as many players as this season's does?
"The years kind of run together. I'm drawing a blank. I know in '07 we had a couple NBA guys that were coming off the bench," Matta said. "I like this group because the big thing you want as a coach is you want guys to understand what they have to do when they go in. I think they saw today we weren't as focused as we needed to be, and they brought that to the table."
If the bench were to be assigned roles, it'd probably go something like this:
Thompson is the sixth man and the energy guy.
Della Valle is the sharp shooter.
McDonald is the bruiser.
Loving is the versatile forward, the stretch four.
Together, they form one of the best benches Matta has had in recent memory.
Ohio State faces its biggest test of the season tonight, facing No. 5 Michigan State on the road in East Lansing. For the Buckeyes to come away with their biggest win of the season, the bench will have to play to its potential.
They already know that, though.
"We have to bring our A-game," Loving said.
Ohio State and Michigan State are set to tip-off at 9 p.m. E.T.