Looking back at Ohio State’s narrow loss at Duke on Wednesday night, Thad Matta admitted he wished he would have found more minutes for the sharp-shooting LaQuinton Ross in the second half.
The No. 4 Buckeyes head coach didn’t make the same mistake in consecutive games, going with the sophomore for 29 minutes in Ohio State’s 70-43 win over Northern Kentucky on Saturday afternoon in Value City Arena.
That proved to be the right decision, as Ross scored a career-high 22 points and grabbed eight rebounds in the most complete game of his collegiate career.
“My coaches have been really pushing me in practice and telling me to shoot the ball,” said Ross, who converted on eight of his 14 field goal attempts. “Tonight I got the opportunity and really thought I played well.”
It was another encouraging performance for the sophomore after showing signs of prolific scoring ability against the Blue Devils earlier in the week. Now, Ross has emerged as one of the top candidates as a go-to player in Ohio State’s lineup as the team continues the to identify scorers not named Deshaun Thomas.
Thomas scored 14 points and snagged eight rebounds and Sam Thompson added 10 for the Buckeyes (5-1), who shot 37.7 percent as a team in the game. It was Ross, however, that was the most consistent offensive weapon in the game.
“Teams are going to play me really tight and aggressive and double-team me,” said Thomas, who came into the game leading OSU in scoring with 22.4 points per game. “It is important for a guy like Q to step up. That’s really important. It will only help us out as a team.”
Scoring 13 of his points in the first half, Ross helped the Buckeyes create separation after NKU kept the game close early. With Ohio State clinging to a slim 13-11 lead just over nine minutes into the game, Ross buried a three to spark to the Buckeyes offense that didn’t shoot particularly well for the second consecutive game.
Ross’ shot started a 23-6 run that spanned the next 8:35, helping OSU gain control of the game before taking a 36-22 lead into the locker room at halftime. The sophomore forward scored 10 points during the game-changing run, a time in which the Norse converted only one field goal.
In their first season in Division I, the Norse’s deficit remained in the 20-point range for much of the season half.
“LaQuinton had a great practice yesterday and the thing with him is that you have to keep pointing out the little things and reminding him how important they are,” Matta said. “I thought he was very efficient today when he was on the floor today. The more he plays, the more overall confidence he’s going to gain. He is (gaining my confidence). I felt like going into today’s game that he was going to play well, and he did.”
Having held a lead with less than eight minutes on the road against Duke earlier in the week, the Buckeyes were displeased by their inability to hold on to what would have been a crucial early-season win.
OSU attributed that loss to poor shooting and defensive breakdowns late in the game, so Matta hoped more than anything that his Buckeyes would bounce back in a big way from the team’s first blunder. The head coach, however, wasn’t completely satisfied with his team’s performance against NKU despite the vast margin of victory.
“The No. 1 thing I wanted to see was if we would get off the mat and have a little fight in us,” Matta said. “I don’t think we were as effective that way as I wanted them to be. I don’t think we were as cohesive as we needed to be.”
The poor shooting continued for the second time in as many games, specifically with point guard Aaron Craft and shooting guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. The two juniors both made two of nine attempts from the floor and combined for 10 points.
NKU coach Dave Bezold, however, said Craft – who finished the game with four steals – changed the game defensively, causing more turnovers than head coach cared to recall.
“He has had two games where he’s struggled to put the ball in the basket and I’m not even flinching on that because I know he can do that,” Matta said. “Defensively, he was maybe as good as I have ever seen him with what he brought to the table in terms of disrupting what our opponent wanted to do.”
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