July 31, 2014

Buckeye Offense Falters In Kansas Showdown

In the Ohio State Buckeyes’ second high-profile top-ten matchup of the season, it was their offense that failed them once again. The out-of-sorts Buckeyes chucked up 31 three pointers and shot just 31% as the Bucks were defeated by the rising star Ben McLemore and the ninth-ranked Kansas Jayhawks on their home floor by a 74-66 count. The loss, Ohio State’s second on the year to go with their hard-fought loss at Duke, made painfully obvious that the Buckeyes have a serious problem scoring and executing in their halfcourt offense.

Let me start by thanking TD for joining Craig and I for the podcast previewing this game. We had a lot of fun with it, and it’s always great to get that insider fan perspective from someone that we know does such quality work with the Indians and more like TD does. In that podcast, if I had one takeaway point it was this: Ohio State needs to have their defense fuel their transition offense for easy buckets. While Ohio State’s offensive numbers were pretty impressive (ranked 7th in Ken Pomeroy’s offensive efficiency heading into the game), I had a pretty bad feeling that this was fool’s gold. Their defense, especially their ability to turn weaker team over, and their offensive rebounding have been able to cover up some serious holes in the offensive attack to the untrained eye.

We saw this in the first half as the Bucks scored only on two Sam Thompson three pointers in the first five and a half minutes of the game. The Buckeyes were taking some tough shots other than those threes without much dribble penetration to speak of. The turning point of the first half was Shannon Scott entering the game. The sophomore point helped get the Buckeyes on track by pushing the tempo off of turnovers and missed shots as the Buckeyes used a 25-12 surge to take an eight-point lead which got the crowd rocking at The Schott. Scott would go on to lead the team in scoring at the half with 10 and finish with 15 points on 5-of-12 shooting to go with 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals in 25 minutes while playing top-notch defense.

In fact, the Ohio State bench did what I said it needed to do in the podcast and outscored KU’s bench 25-8. Amir Williams fared much better against the 7-foot shot blocker Jeff Withey than the smaller, wider Evan Ravenel did. Williams battled foul trouble throughout the game, but he wound up posting 6 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks in his 20 minutes. As for LaQuinton Ross, the X-factor that has been deployed to fuel a couple of games already this season, Thad Matta basically kept him out of much meaningful action, afraid that his lack of defense is too much to handle when combined with Deshaun Thomas out on the floor. In just 9 minutes, Ross hit 1-of-5 from the field and had 4 points to go with 2 turnovers, though it didn’t seem that he even had time to establish any rhythm. Matta admitted after the Duke game that he should’ve played Ross more in  the second half after “Q” saved their behind after Thomas exited early with foul trouble. I’m a bigger fan of Thad Matta than most, but you have to question some of his in-game decisions, in particular cases where he’s repeating past mistakes. His team is dying for another offensive threat in the halfcourt, and Ross may be inconsistent at times, but he is their best shot at that additional threat. The Buckeyes will continue to drop some hard-luck, lower-scoring games until we see Ross and Thomas out their together at the forward slots.

I’d be doing a great injustice if I didn’t highlight how phenomenal future Top-5 pick shooting guard Ben McLemore was yesterday. I’ve seen the NBA draft profile comparison to Ray Allen, and I was a little skeptical. However, this being only the 2nd or 3rd time I’ve seen him play this year, I can definitely see it. McLemore has a confident three-point shot that is fluid, can attack the rim and sky for alley-oops and dunks with his athleticism, and he’s got the frame of a NBA shooting guard. The KU redshirt sophomore finished with a game-high 22 points on 8-of-17 shooting to go with 6 rebounds. I know we’ve got Kyrie and Dion locking down the backcourt for hopefully years to come, but I’d have a hard time passing on McLemore if the Cavs have an opportunity to draft him. The Cavs must be thinking along the same lines, as TD told us yesterday that Cavs General Manager Chris Grant was in the attendance at yesterday’s matchup along with the two of us.

I’ll mention that Jeff Withey was good, posting a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, though he had just 1 block and 3 personal fouls. Kevin Young and Naadir Tharpe were both pretty lousy, as TD mentioned some concerns with those two spots. However, the other player I’ll focus on is Travis Releford. In 38 minutes, Releford scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting, but that wasn’t his greatest contribution. For most of the game and especially in the second half, Releford absolutely shutdown star forward Deshaun Thomas. Thomas took just 11 shots (alarming considering Lenzelle Smith Jr. fired up 13, Shannon Scott 12, and Sam Thompson 10). Sadly, the game’s pace slowed in that second half and the Buckeyes went into multiple scoring droughts, unable to even get the ball into Thomas as he was being pinched with a double team when he received the ball in the post and was closely tagged on the perimeter by Releford whenever he caught the ball on the three-point arc. My exact fear was realized. Thomas was neutralized, and the Buckeyes had absolutely nothing else in the halfcourt. Their solution was to continuously chuck the left-wing open threes that KU was coaxing a cast of several into taking. The Bucks hit just 8-of-31 attempts, and Smith Jr., the team’s best three-point threat outside of Thomas, missed all seven attempts. The Buckeyes had 23 points off turnovers, and while they had just 8 fastbreak points, several points were still technically in transition before KU’s defense could totally setup. In the halfcourt, it was an ugly, bloody loss for OSU.

Two of the leaders on this team that really need to step up are Aaron Craft and Evan Ravenel. Craft was non-existent on offense, which is nothing new this year. His shooting has apparently regressed as he was just 2-of-9 shooting, committed four fouls and four turnovers, and had just 7 points and 1 steal. Aaron also got toasted on a couple of inbounds plays and perimeter pick and roll scenarios by McLemore. It has not been a good season at all for Craft, who apparently was playing through a hip pointer in that second half, according to Matta. As for Ravenel, Withey absolutely destroyed him in the post and on the boards. Rav had 3 points, 3 boards, and 1 block in 19 minutes, missing all three shots from the field.

I’ll finish up with the environment, which was a frenzied one. I’ve been to a lot of high-profile games at Ohio State over the last six years in the rise of this program (the Duke game last season was one of the few big ones I did not attend), and this was right there with the Wisconsin games for the Big Ten title in terms of intensity. TD even said it himself that the crowd was really getting into it in that first half. It wasn’t a victory, but you continue to build a program by competing and scheduling these huge tests against the blue bloods. The Bucks were able to dispatch Duke last year on their home floor, and while it didn’t work out this time, I’m glad they scheduled the Jayhawks, and hopefully they’ll apply some of the lessons they learned yesterday against what could easily, easily be a Final Four team come April.

(Photo: Mike Munden/AP)