Throughout this season, the Ohio State Buckeyes have had their trials and tribulations on the offensive end of the floor. At times, playing both junior point guard Aaron Craft and sophomore point guard Shannon Scott simultaneously — while ideal on the defensive end — has damaged Ohio State’s halfcourt offensive attack due to a lack of outside shooting from those two.
Tuesday night, on the biggest of Big Ten stages and most hostile of environments, the Buckeyes snagged the signature road win that had narrowly escaped them in both Ann Arbor and East Lansing, pulling away late from the No. 2-ranked Indiana Hoosiers in a 67-58 victory. Craft finished with 15 points and four assists; Scott added eight points and three assists of his own. The two split the team’s eight steals between them, and those led to 16 points off turnovers which gave Ohio State the lift it needed from its supporting cast.
The best part of this one: Their contributions were far from the only key rise-to-the-occasion performances. While Deshaun Thomas’s 18 points led the team (thought he was just 6-of-17 shooting), Sam Thompson added nine first half points and two blocks while Evan Ravenel delivered at both ends, scoring eight points, nabbing six boards, and taking two key charges. I had mentioned the need for two players to rise to the occasion and deliver out of character performances, and the Buckeyes got that and then some. Much like his surprise showing in the must win Michigan State game last year in East Lansing, Ravenel was incredibly clutch, finding himself in the right place for taking the charges by moving his feet and putting in three offensive putbacks by running the floor.
Imposing their will to perfection, the Buckeyes were incredibly active on the defensive end, and it fueled their offensive attack. All season long, I’ve been pleading, begging, screaming for the Buckeyes to defend like this to get out and score a large chunk of their points in transition. Last night, they did just that, outscoring Indiana 14-2 in fastbreak points and 16-9 in points off turnovers. As previously mentioned, Craft and Scott each had four steals, but it was a team effort chipping the ball out, remaining in good helpside defensive position, and grabbing the defensive rebounds to get out and run. A game in the seventies or eighties would not have been a good thing for the Buckeyes against this Indiana attack, so junking it up and keeping Indiana in the fifties was a great recipe for success. Thad Matta certainly deserves some credit for that.
Indiana never seemed to truly recover from their first half foul trouble as the crew of Valentine (did he have money on IU or what?!), Steratore, and Wymer sent both Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller to the bench for significant time in the first half with two fouls. Oladipo didn’t even take a shot in the first half before hitting the bench around the 11 minute mark, while Zeller did impose his will, getting both Amir Williams and Evan Ravenel in foul trouble before getting in foul trouble himself with about six to go. That allowed the Buckeyes to play small ball to end the first half with Thomas and LaQuinton Ross at the four and five. The Bucks went on a 7-0 run for the last 5:47 of the half with that unit as Ross scored on back-to-back possessions for his only points of the game.
Whereas the trio on the Hoosier frontline were unstoppable in Columbus, the foul trouble helped slow them on Senior Night in Bloomington. Zeller had a pretty efficient night, shooting 5-of-9 for 17 points, converting 7-of-8 at the line. However, he had just four rebounds, and he was outmuscled in the second half by Ravenel. He also turned the ball over three times. Oladipo had some stunning highlights from this game, including a wow-inducing helpside block in the second half, but he was just 3-of-6 from the field for seven points, amassing four turnovers and just one assist. Christian Watford was 4-of-10 from the field for his 12 points, and the Hoosiers shot just under 40% in this contest. The Buckeyes gave Indiana their lowest halftime total (25) and largest deficit on the season (11) in this game.
In the second half, IU came out firing from their 3-point halftime deficit. The Hoosiers made their first six shots of the quarter and regained the lead and stretched it to five early in the second half. But, Indiana couldn’t sustain it, and they went 0-for-5 from the field with four turnovers for a stretch after that.
Aaron Craft went to work in that second half, taking the team’s offensive effort on his back. Dominating the ball, Craft made some heady plays at both ends of the floor. Craft chipped down on Zeller and Watford in the post, pestering them and preventing the slow, deliberate post moves where Indiana can thrive with a mixed bag of fakes, spins, and shots over the top of outstretched arms. Offensively, it was his confidence returning to his mid-range jumper and finishing off the glass when he went inside for a layup or a short jumper. Craft gave the Bucks the 15-point effort to help Thomas that I clamored for pre-game yesterday, and he shot 7-of-10 from the field, turning the ball over just twice. In fact, the Buckeyes turned it over just eight times as a team and had ZERO live ball turnovers. With a team like Indiana that loves to get Oladipo and Ferrell to push tempo, that was critical to minimize those opportunities.
Moreover, OSU’s phenomenal defense extended to the three-point arc where the threes were deep and mostly contested. The Hoosiers average about 7.5 makes a game, shooting it at a 41 percent clip. Last night, however, they made just 6-of-15 attempts.
There were a couple of daggers late in this game, and I’m not quite sure which one struck the fatal blow. It could have been Thomas’s pick and fade for a right wing three following a sensational Amir Williams block that gave the Bucks a nine-point lead with just over four minutes to play. It could have been the Shannon Scott steal on Oladipo and the transition slam by Lenzelle Smith Jr. that followed one minute later. But, all doubt was certainly removed when Craft scored over the elite defender Oladipo, driving on him then jump stopping and fading away over the top of his long arms, finishing off the glass as he did on multiple occasions.
When I looked at some of the Big Ten contenders’ schedules down the stretch earlier this year, I saw Indiana traveling to Michigan and just knew somehow that Sunday’s game would influence the Big Ten crown in some way, shape, or form. That game will basically determine whether Indiana wins the Big Ten regular season outright or if there is a split with as many as four teams potentially sharing the crown. If the Wolverines win at Purdue tonight, they’ll set themselves up for a championship game scenario Sunday, and the Buckeyes can then grab their share of the title by beating Illinois on Sunday afternoon in The Schott if UM is victorious. OSU got ambushed by the Illini in Champaign in a 19-point loss, so with all that’s potentially at stake, let’s hope there’s no letdown.
With the win, Ohio State notches its third Top-5 win (No. 2 Michigan and No. 4 Michigan State at home), and more than anything it was a statement. Ohio State’s a three-time defending Big Ten champ, and on this night, they weren’t willing to give up their shot at four straight. Now, if the Buckeyes can take care of business early on Sunday, all eyes will be on Ann Arbor and rooting for the rival Wolverines to pull out a “W.” Excuse me while I grab my barf bag.
(Photo: Darron Cummings/AP)