The Ohio State basketball team did exactly what needs to be done to remain a factor in the Big Ten race on Tuesday night—defend home court against the other quality squads.
The Buckeyes took care of business in a back-and-forth game against Wisconsin to the tune of 58-49. It was the type of grind-it-out contest that has defined the Bo Ryan era for the Badgers and marked the third straight game his team failed to score 50 points.
Deshaun Thomas led the way with 25 points, and the home crowd was electric from the start.
Read on to see the 10 things Buckeye fans learned from their team’s win over Wisconsin.
Deshaun Thomas was rather quiet in Ohio State’s victory over Penn State last Saturday, but that was anything but the case Tuesday night.
The Buckeyes’ go-to man poured in 25 points on 10-of-17 shooting. What’s more, he took his game inside and didn’t force any ill-advised and contested three-pointers (he only attempted one all game).
There’s a reason he leads the Big Ten in scoring at better than 20 points a contest. Thomas showed exactly why he is a nightmare matchup for opposing coaches by posting up Ryan Evans on a consistent basis and driving right around the helpless Mike Bruesewitz.
It was just one of those nights for Thomas, and if they come frequently down the stretch, this Ohio State team may just be a factor in the conference race after all.
There has been a lot of consternation among those in Buckeye Nation about who else can score on this year’s team besides Deshaun Thomas.
Many have been questioning why the veteran Aaron Craft hasn’t been more of a factor on offense. However, since Big Ten play started he has gradually stuck his nose in the offensive game plan with four double-digit games.
He is also quicker than he gets credit for with the ball in his hands, which he showed a number of times by getting to the hoop rather easily on Tuesday. His old fashioned three-point play came at a huge time in the second half when Ohio State was just starting to make a run.
However, in typical Craft fashion, his biggest play of the game was the charge he drew down low right after Wisconsin grabbed an important offensive rebound. It was a momentum play that helped the Buckeyes during their 15-0 second-half spurt.
Shannon Scott only played 13 minutes on Tuesday night (for reasons we will get to later) and scored three points, but that doesn’t mean his impact was limited.
He utilized his superior athleticism against Wisconsin's guards to play suffocating defense. Scott recorded two steals, including a key interception that led to an easy basket on the other end during Ohio State’s second-half run.
It’s obvious when watching Scott play defense that he is truly trying to emulate Aaron Craft’s pesky style. He gets right up in the grill of the ball handler and is starting to slowly anticipate where the offensive player is going before it actually happens.
If Scott continues to play defense at an excellent level, there are going to be plenty of low point totals against the Buckeyes.
Outside of developing a second scorer behind Deshaun Thomas, no “weakness” has been more discussed when it comes to Ohio State basketball this season than the vulnerability of the center position.
And for the most part that has been for good reason. After all, elite centers like Mason Plumlee and Jeff Withey have had their way inside against the Buckeyes.
Jared Berggren, who is a very talented center himself, totaled 11 points and grabbed nine rebounds, but he didn’t change the game in a damaging way for Ohio State. Evan Ravenel and Amir Williams combined for 12 rebounds and three blocks in what was an impressive defensive effort.
Williams looked like he had more energy on both sides of the ball (he grabbed a couple of offensive rebounds even though he only scored two points), and Ravenel put home the dagger basket with less than a minute remaining.
The talent is there for Thad Matta at the center position, and perhaps it is finally starting to show through.
To go along with the previous point, the only thing holding Amir Williams back from being a shot-swatting machine is probably Amir Williams.
He has looked lethargic at times this season and has played much smaller than his 6’11” frame indicates. However, in the past week he has come out of his shell on the defensive end.
He totaled two blocks on Tuesday against the Badgers and altered a number of other attempts. It was clear when he was in there that Wisconsin wasn’t as comfortable driving the lane and in the post.
Considering the fact that Williams totaled six blocks last week against Iowa, it is easy for Buckeye fans to feel some sense of optimism about the big man going forward. He will probably never be Jared Sullinger, but a Dallas Lauderdale type of enforcer wouldn’t be bad.
He may not show it very consistently, but LaQuinton Ross is the second-best offensive player on Thad Matta’s team. He did show why on Tuesday.
Ross hit both of his three-point attempts against the Badgers and looked comfortable driving the ball and finding his teammates. He ended up with eight points on 3-of-4 shooting and benefited from the extra defensive attention on Deshaun Thomas on both of his threes.
That is encouraging going forward because Thomas will continue to see additional defensive attention. If Ross can hit his open threes on a regular basis, he will see much more playing time and higher point totals.
His offensive confidence even transferred a bit to the defensive side where he tallied a steal and two rebounds and didn’t look generally helpless defending his opponent.
Consistency is the key with Ross, but Tuesday night was a good sign going forward.
It may have only been for a few minutes on Tuesday, but Thad Matta threw a lineup combination at Wisconsin that Buckeye fans haven’t seen much of this season.
Aaron Craft was handling the point guard duties, but Sam Thompson and LaQuinton Ross were also both on the floor together in the 2 and 3 spots. Matta has used Thompson and Ross as interchangeable pieces for the most part, using Shannon Scott or Lenzelle Smith Jr. at the shooting guard position almost exclusively.
However, Ross was playing particularly well against the Badgers and Thompson was coming off of his best game of his career in State College, so it made sense to maximize the playing time of each.
While it cost Scott a few minutes of action, it was good to see Matta is comfortable enough with his sophomore small forwards to have them on the floor together at times.
The fact that Thad Matta used LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson at the same time means one thing in particular—Matta is gradually starting to trust Ross.
Fans have been clamoring for Ross to see more action so he has the opportunity to deliver on his limitless potential, and it is now clear that when Ross is feeling it early Matta will use him more down the stretch.
That wasn’t always the case (see the Purdue game for proof), so there has to be some level of trust that wasn’t there before.
Ross saw 20 minutes of playing time Tuesday night, which was plenty of action to make an impactful difference on the game. His second-half three helped spark Ohio State’s game-clinching run.
Expect to see more of Ross going forward if he continues to play like he did Tuesday.
No player on either side of the game Tuesday night totaled more assists (four) than Deshaun Thomas. That’s not bad considering he found the time to score 25 points and make Wisconsin’s defense look awfully helpless a number of times.
Freshman and even sophomore year Thomas was somewhat of a black hole offensively. If Aaron Craft or one of the other Buckeye guards swung the ball to Thomas, you could be assured that it was going up.
It didn’t even matter that Jared Sullinger was the big man down low.
While that strategy paid off during the games that Thomas was particularly hot, the Buckeyes needed more from him this season. He has delivered.
He is still taking many more shots than everyone else, but that is what a go-to scorer is supposed to do. The encouraging sign is that he is finding his open teammates when double teams and additional defensive pressure comes his way.
Thomas did exactly that against the Badgers.
The fact that Thad Matta’s squad has a switch that it has turned on and off throughout the season is both a blessing and a curse.
There have been stretches of game where this Ohio State team looks like it can beat anyone in the country. It showed that in the first 10 minutes of the Michigan game, the first half in Cameron Indoor Stadium and for spurts during the first half against Kansas.
However, the flip side of that switch is that when it is off, trouble usually follows. In those three games the Blue Devils and Jayhawks took advantage of the off-switch with big second-half runs which resulted in Buckeye losses. Michigan was a halfway down Trey Burke three away from doing the same.
Tuesday night we saw what happens when the switch comes on in a crucial 15-0 second-half run. It looked like Ohio State had the game in the bag with fewer than six minutes remaining and an 11-point lead.
However, less than two minutes later, Wisconsin cut the lead to five and had Buckeye fans sweating it out a bit down the stretch.
Ohio State did a nice job closing this one out and avoiding a letdown, but that switch has to have Matta a bit nervous going forward.