Some final thoughts from Ohio State’s 63-52 win over American, just as soon as Eddie Hightower’s standing ovation ends.
“We just didn’t have it at the level that we needed to have it ... this is one of those games, where you have these, and fortunately for us, we were able to come out with a win tonight.” - Buckeyes head coach Thad Matta
Following Ohio State’s 26.9 first half shooting performance against Marquette on Saturday, Matta told his team that statistically, it couldn’t shoot any worse than it just did. At least that’s what he thought at the time. The Buckeyes proved their head coach wrong on Wednesday, with a 25.9 percent first half effort against the Eagles, which was highlighted by a 2-of-16 start from the field. Ohio State missed everything from uncontested threes to wide-open attempts from point blank range, in a showing that was every bit as ugly as the team’s opening stanza in Milwaukee.
While clearly disappointed with his team’s performance from the field -- which included a 3-of-16 success rate from beyond three-point range -- Matta did his best to offer explanations for it. For one, American’s Princeton offense is predicated on running down the shot clock, which makes for tired legs for opponents on the other end of the floor. That, however, can’t explain the entirety of the Buckeyes’ struggles, nor can Matta’s observation that Ohio State’s not passing the ball particularly well, which is creating a bigger degree of difficulty on its shot attempts. Both of those things can be considered contributing factors, but through four games, there’s plenty of evidence that suggests that the Buckeyes simply aren’t a great shooting team.
The biggest culprits of the Buckeyes’ inability on offense on Wednesday were Aaron Craft and LaQuinton Ross, as Craft’s “improved” jump shot appears to have more of a hitch in it than his previous one did. Craft air-balled a 3-point attempt early on that was so off target that in drew “ooohs” from fans in attendance, and the senior guard finished the night with a 2-of-9 success rate from the field, including two misses from beyond 3-point range. We’ve seen Craft play for more than three years now, and to expect him to ever be a consistent shooter is simply an unrealistic expectation at this point.
That’s not to say that Craft still didn’t manage to make a positive impact on Wednesday night. Against the Eagles, he recorded seven steals, while also posting four assists and just one turnover in 34 minutes. At the end of the first half, he made a layup, broke one of college basketball’s cardinal sins by saving the ball under his own defensive basket, but then raced the ball up the court in two seconds for a buzzer-beating layup to extend OSU’s lead to five heading into the locker room.
On Craft saving the ball under the Buckeyes’ defensive goal, Matta blamed not Craft, but the other four OSU players on the court. The Buckeyes head coach pointed out that it was his point guard who was giving maximum effort, while the same couldn’t be said for his teammates on the play.
“When you go back and look at it, you’re going to see what I saw,” Matta said. “(Craft) has the ball and he’s falling out of bounds -- you come back to the basketball. And we were just like, ‘Ehhh, that might take too much effort to run three feet over there.’ That’s kind of how we played.”
One player who could fit that description -- and I swear, we’ll get to positives in a minute -- was Ross, who made just one of his seven shot attempts against American, before sitting for the game’s final 14 minutes. The Buckeyes clearly look more in sync with freshman Marc Loving on the floor in Ross’ place, and for the second time in as many games, that was the lineup that Matta opted for during the stretch run.
Here’s what Matta had to say about Ross’ recent struggles: “I’m a little puzzled. I keep saying this: Q’s a great basketball player, we need him to play well. You’ve got to -- and not just Q -- but you’ve got to respect the game, you’ve got to respect your opponents. You can’t make the same mistake over and over again without saying, ‘Wait a minute, this isn’t working. Let me try something different.’ I think that’s just having the feel of seeing what’s there and what needs to be done. He can play great basketball, he’s going to play great basketball, and hopefully sooner than later.”
How Ross progresses -- or whether more of his minutes go to Loving, who scored nine points against the Eagles -- in the next month will go a long way toward determining this team’s potential come Big Ten play.
Speaking of Big Ten play, you know what else would be nice for the Buckeyes come then? For Amir Williams to keep playing the way that he has through Ohio State’s first four games. The 6-11, 250-pounder looked particularly dominant against American, scoring a career best 16 points while showcasing successful hook shots with each of his hands. Perhaps what’s even more encouraging is that he admittedly left plenty of points on the table against the Eagles, which means that there’s still room for improvement for the junior center. Williams won’t ever be the post presence that Jared Sullinger was, but he’s continuing to add a new dimension to the OSU offense, and I’d expect more designed plays to run through him in the coming month.
While it was Williams who was the team’s leading scorer against American, Shannon Scott continued to establish himself as arguably the Buckeyes’ best player. The junior guard scored 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting, adding nine rebounds and four assists. Scott has clearly been Ohio State’s most consistent offensive player through four games, and is the only player on the roster who can be counted on to create his own shot on a regular basis.
One of Scott’s signature plays came on the opening inbounds pass of the second half, where he stole the ball before taking it up court for an uncontested lay-in. Asked about it after the game, Matta admitted that the Buckeyes got an assist from the game’s head official, Hightower, who accidentally shielded an American player from receiving the ball. With Wednesday being Hightower’s last game in Columbus before he retires at the end of the season, consider his unintentional block a going away present to the Buckeye fans who he frustrated for so many years.
It was hard to find a true turning point in the game, as it just seemed like it was one of those nights where Ohio State won thanks to the name across its players’ chests. The Buckeyes played about as a poorly as they possibly could have in the game’s first half, and still walked away with a double-digit victory in a game that was never really in doubt. The next month and a half should be interesting in Columbus, as there’s a very good chance that Ohio State will enter Big Ten play undefeated, and unsure of how good it actually is.
The Buckeyes won’t play again until Monday, Nov. 25, when they’ll welcome Wyoming for a 7 p.m. tipoff at The Schott (Big Ten Network).