In the moments after Ohio State’s 59-56 loss at Michigan State on Saturday, Shannon Scott hunched over with his jersey draped over his face.
The sophomore point guard’s three-point attempt in the game’s final seconds remains the last memory from a loss that moved the Buckeyes from the top of the Big Ten standings to the middle of the pack.
“He’s a fighter, he’s a competitor,” junior point guard Aaron Craft said. “I’d much rather have him react the way he did rather than just shrug it off and not care at all because that means he cares about winning and cares about making the right decision.”
Maybe Scott’s reaction to the game’s final play wasn’t that he simply missed the jumper. It was likely more about the confused, off-balanced nature that made the play look more like a blunder than a missed opportunity.
Ohio State coach Thad Matta looks at it as yet another teachable moment for the still-growing Scott, who will again this season have the ball in his hands but in far bigger moments.
“You have to learn from it, but we have another game (tonight),” Matta said. “Trust me, that was not why we lost the game, there’s no doubt about it. Everybody remembers the last play. There were things that we did very well in that game, but there were a few things that were costly that probably caused us not to win the basketball game.
“You can’t hang onto things. You have to play forward.”
Deshaun Thomas scored 28 points in the game where the Buckeyes failed to produce any other viable scoring threat, and Matta would have much preferred to have the junior forward take the final shot.
But in that moment with the camera lights glaring on the back of his neck, Scott anticipated a foul that wasn’t coming and shot an awkward-looking jumper that didn’t reach the vicinity of the rim.
“I talked to him and I told him, ‘Just keep your head up, man. I was in that situation before, and you’ve got more games. Just keep your head up and stay focused,’ ” Thomas said. “In that position, I probably would have thought that a guy was going to foul me and I probably would’ve done the same thing. I just told him to move forward.”
The short layover between games could be a blessing for Scott, as the No. 14 Buckeyes host Iowa tonight in Value City Arena at 6:30 p.m. Ohio State (13-4, 3-2 Big Ten) will again turn to Scott to help run an offense still looking to solidify its identity.
“He’s not going to be defined by that moment,” Craft said. “He’s going to be defined on how he came back, how he practices and how he plays (tonight).”
A Steal Away From History
Craft has already made Ohio State history, but odds are he’ll have it all to himself after tonight’s game against the Hawkeyes comes to an end. Currently tied with Jay Burson for all-time career steals in Ohio State history with 204, Craft is only one theft away from being the program’s all-time leader in takeaways.
“I couldn’t even imagine what the number would be if (Mike Conley Jr.) would have stayed, but luckily he didn’t,” Craft joked. “It worked out for him, and it is working out for me as well. Maybe toward the end of the year when we get done we can kind of reflect back, but right now we have much more important things to talk about and worry about.”
While with the Buckeyes for a single season in 2006-07 before leaving for the NBA Draft, Conley posted 87 steals in 39 games (2.23 per game) while helping lead the Buckeyes to the national title game.
Craft posted 73 steals in 37 games (1.97 pg) during his freshman season in 2010-11, and improved dramatically last season with 98 in 39 games (2.51 pg). Thus far this season, Craft has 33 steals in 17 games (1.94 per game).
“It doesn’t mean a ton in the middle of a season,” Craft said. “We have much more important things to worry about, especially with this team and continuing to get better with the heart of the Big Ten schedule coming up. Maybe we can talk about it a little more at the end of the year.”
The all-time leader in steals in Big Ten history is Bruce Douglas, who recorded 324 for Illinois from 1983-86. Craft will likely break into the top 10 in conference history in the next month, as No. 10 on the list is a tie at 215 between Melvin Newbern (Minnesota, 1987-90) and Jitim Young (Northwestern, 2001-04).
Secondary Scoring Options
Though Scott’s shot in the final seconds of the game at Michigan State is what is remembered, the box score reveals a problem that has been plaguing the Buckeyes in big games all season.
Ohio State has the most prolific scorer in the Big Ten in Thomas, who has scored 23.2 points per game during conference action. Thomas was efficient again against the Spartans with 28 points.
The problem? No other Buckeye scored more than six. And given the fact that Ohio State doesn’t have another player on its roster that averages more than eight points in Big Ten play, the process of identifying secondary scoring options is ongoing.
“Other teams have that second- or third-leading scorer,” Thomas said. “With the offense we have, anybody can score. Everybody thinks it’s a play running for me, but it's not. In our offense, it’s for everybody to get a shot off.
“I have faith in my guys. There are guys on this team who are capable of scoring in double digits every night. We just have to be patient within our offense and run it with great pace. Anybody can be that second scorer.”
Though scoring has been a chronic issue for Ohio State all season, Matta has remained calm in the development of his team. The head coach said he sees drastic improvement from his players in understanding the team’s offensive principles.
“It's probably going to lend itself to really playing off each other,” he said. "That’s one of the things that we have to continue to do is to play off of each other, making simpler plays, and kind of letting things unfold."
Prior to the season, Iowa wasn’t figured to be a Big Ten powerhouse. Though that may be the case, the Hawkeyes (13-5, 2-3) aren’t a pushover, either.
Though Iowa began the Big Ten slate with three consecutive losses, all three of them came to ranked foes – No. 7 Indiana, No. 2 Michigan and No. 13 Michigan State. The Hawkeyes responded with two consecutive conference wins since, including a win over Wisconsin on Saturday that gave the Badgers their first Big Ten loss.
“You look at their team and who they’re starting, and the guys that are coming off the bench have been starters for them,” Matta said. “They are a very deep team, they play 10 guys. They have been right there (in most of their games) and they are playing great basketball. They have one two in a row… Our guys are fully aware of what we have to do and how we have to do it.”
Perhaps the game wasn’t penciled in as a crucial contest before the Big Ten slate began. Now, Craft sees it as a game the Buckeyes must win in order to stay within reach of their goals.
“It’s huge,” Craft said. “We are in the thick of the league race and you have to protect home court in this league. It is very hard to be there at the end if you love home games.”
• The last time Ohio State faced Iowa, the Buckeyes dispatched the Hawkeyes 76-57 in Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Jan. 7, 2012. Former big man Jared Sullinger posted a season-high 28 points and Thomas added 10.
• Ohio State has won the last seven meetings with the Hawkeyes and have wins in the last six games played in Columbus.
• Thomas has scored double figures in each of Ohio State’s 17 games, but no other Buckeye has scored more than 10 points more than nine times. Lenzelle Smith Jr. has posted double-figures scoring in nine games, and Craft has in seven.
• Thomas has reached 20 or more points in five consecutive Big Ten regular-season games, the first time a Buckeye accomplished that since Jim Jackson reached the feat during both his junior (1992) and sophomore (1991) seasons with the Buckeyes.
• The Buckeyes are No. 2 in scoring defense (57.9 ppg.), field goal percentage defense (.382) and turnover margin (+3.4) among Big Ten teams.
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