This year’s Buckeye team was always going to have an offense that trailed the defense. The defense has been on an elite level among the college ranks for the last couple years, and they showed exactly why last night. The 18th-ranked Ohio State’s defense forced 24 turnovers and held Minnesota to under 30% shooting as they allowed just nine points in a stretch of 15 minutes in the second half, as they creamed Minnesota in The Schott by a 71-45 count.
Sometimes, officials make it clear from the beginning what pace they want to set for a given game. Last night’s crew certainly did that. They wanted the most boring, slow-paced, foul-ridden game imaginable. Thirteen fouls were called in the first seven minutes of this game (7 on Ohio State). The rest of the first half was a slow-paced back-and-forth filled with turnovers, fouls, and missed shots. Deshaun Thomas and Minnesota’s wide load Maurice Walker were the halftime scoring leaders with 7 points, while Sam Thompson added 6 points. The most (only?) memorable play of the first half came after a Minnesota bucket with eight seconds left. Quickly, the Bucks got the ball out of bounds and up the court to Craft who raced over halfcourt, firing a contested 30+ foot heave that connected and gave OSU a 6-point halftime lead.
Defensively, the Buckeyes were scrappy and kept getting in the passing lanes. They forced three shot clock violations, including on back-to-back possessions in the first half. While the officials were calling every single ticky tack contact on entries into the post, they were missing all the beatdowns and muggings taking place directly underneath the basket, and if there’s one thing that Matta’s Buckeyes (especially with Craft on the team) know how to do, it’s take what the officials give them in terms of permitting contact on defense. They threw their bodies, swatted their arms, and shoved their way to defensive rebounds underneath the bucket to keep the #1 team in the nation when it comes to offensive rebounding in check. Sure, they nabbed 13 of them, but it could have been much worse as the Buckeyes had 10 of their own. Matta said about his team’s defense, “We didn’t play perfectly but we kept playing and pursuing the ball. In the first half, we made some mistakes but we corrected them.” Remember those struggles defending the three-point arc? Well, the Bucks actually outscored the Gophers there last night with a 7-for-20 clip as Minnesota hit just 2-of-15 attempts. The Buckeye star forward Deshaun Thomas added, “I felt that we played really well. Great defense all the way around and that’s what Ohio State basketball is all about.”
On the offensive side of things, it really picked up in the second half as Thomas got started. A 15-8 run with 12 points and a pair of three pointers from Thomas over the next twelve minutes extended the lead to 13 and dug the hole far too deep for the Gophers. I still, however, have several issues with Ohio State’s base offense that they run, in particular the three-man-weave style guard interweaving and dribble drives with people who aren’t particularly adept at driving. So many of Ohio State’s possessions end in contested jumpshots, and often, the ball is in the wrong player’s hands (i.e. not a scorer). Speaking of the devil, Shannon Scott, he of the offensive ineptitude of late, was the team’s second leading scorer with 11 points on 3-of-5 shooting to go with 3 blocks, 3 steals, and 5 assists. He was the ringleader of the defensive suffocation of Minnesota, leading the transition attack. As you know if you’ve seen Ohio State play several games this year, while Aaron Craft is a selective fastbreaker, Scott will push the tempo every single time down the court. Given the well-documented halfcourt offensive stagnancy, I prefer the latter approach by leaps and bounds.
Perusing the box score, there was a lot of good stuff not normally seen from the Bucks. Those 24 turnovers forced yielded 26 points off turnovers for the Bucks, a 19-point advantage in that area. Closely tied in with that was the 20-6 advantage in fastbreak points. Refreshing as well was the 31 OSU bench points, led by Scott’s 11 and 10 from LaQuinton Ross. Evan Ravenel had four points, including a steal and breakaway dunk that brought the entire crowd to its feet. Frosh Amadeo Della Valle, who Matta said could get some rotation time now, hit two late threes to send the crowd into a frenzy as the lead soared to 30. Don’t look now, but Matta is suddenly playing sophomore Trey McDonald and Della Valle, stretching his rotation to ten.
Next up, the Buckeyes host another angry top-half Big Ten team fresh off a loss. That team comes in the form of the #4 Michigan State Spartans, who fell at home in a hard-fought battle with #1 Indiana on Tuesday night. Ohio State battled the Spartans punch-for-punch in East Lansing, but lost by three when Shannon Scott’s panic-shot ended the game and prevented a true look at overtime. The physical interior of Payne and Nix will once again be quite a task for the trio of Ravenel, Williams, and Thomas.
(Photo: Mike Munden/AP)