Five Things We Learned: Minnesota
By Brandon Castel
Sunday’s win over Minnesota wasn’t easy, but it was convincing. The top-ranked Buckeyes improved to 24-0 on the season with an 82-69 win in Minneapolis, putting further distance between themselves and the rest of the conference.
We take a look at the five things we learned from Ohio State’s eighth-straight road win to start the season.
1. This team really is special. Williams Arena is not an easy place to play. It never has been for the Buckeyes. With all his success against the rest of the Big Ten, Thad Matta has only won two games in that building. One came back in 2006-07 when he had Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. and the other came Sunday. In both cases, the Buckeyes ran Minnesota out of their own building.
Though Sunday’s 13-point win wasn’t quite as emphatic as the 85-67 win back in Feb. 2007, it does suggest there is something special about this team. The Gophers were without point guard Al Nolen, but that doesn’t negate the fact that Ohio State was in control of the game from start to finish. They had all five starters in double-figures and turned the ball over eight times on the road in a hostile environment. They forced the Gophers into 19 turnovers and took Trevor Mbakwe and Colton Iverson completely out of the game.
Photo by Jim Davidson
2. David Lighty is the difference-maker. The Buckeyes got solid contributions once again from Jared Sullinger, William Buford and Jon Diebler, but it was David Lighty who got them going against Minnesota. The fifth-year senior scored 13 of his game-high 19 points in the first half, and was a very efficient 7-of-13 shooting from the floor.
Ohio State can be a very good team without getting much from Lighty at the offensive end. Even when he’s not scoring, Lighty is a glue guy and maximum effort guy on defense. When he gets it going offensively, however, it takes OSU from very good to great. As many coaches have pointed out this year, Lighty is a matchup nightmare when he’s playing well. He’s too quick for someone like Mbakwe to come out and guard him on the perimeter, but too strong to be checked by a guard like Austin Hollins. He changes the game when his outside shot is falling, but it’s his ability to blow by defenders for easy baskets around the rim that makes him such a unique threat for Ohio State.
3. Poor free-throw shooting is going to catch up to them. There were some tense moments in the second half of Sunday’s game, but only because the Buckeyes couldn’t put them away at the free throw line. After going 14-20 at the line in their one-point win at Northwestern, the Bucks were just 15-25 at the stripe against Michigan in the next game. They still won by nine, but their poor free throw shooting let the Wolverines hang around far too long.
It happened again Sunday, and this time it got worse. The Buckeyes were 10 of 20 at the charity stripe against Minnesota, and at some point they won’t be able to get away with it. Much like Memphis a few years ago, bad free throw shooting eventually catches up to you, and usually at the most inopportune time.
Jared Sullinger was clearly rattled by his poor free throw shooting against Michigan, and his form was all over the place Sunday. When he stands in and fires from the balls of his feet, Sullinger is an excellent free throw shooter for a big man. That is critical for the Buckeyes because of how often he is sent to the free throw line. When he falls away or shoots off-balance, Sullinger suddenly becomes a liability at the line.
Photo by Jim Davidson
4. Dallas Lauderdale can still have a major impact. Lauderdale’s numbers have dropped off this season with the addition of Sullinger. Although he provides them with a true shot-blocking threat at the defensive end of the floor, Lauderdale is mostly a liability at the other end. His minutes have dipped from just over 25 per game last season as a junior to under 18 minutes a night as a senior. He has four games where he has played single-digit minutes, including three in Big Ten play.
He had two points and one rebound in eight minutes against Michigan last Thursday, but Sunday’s game reminded everyone why he is still valuable to this team. First and foremost, Lauderdale has been a consummate team player. He has taken his lesser role with impeccable grace, but also stepped in and had a huge impact against Minnesota. He matched up with 7-footer Ralph Sampson III down low and scored eight of OSU’s first 10 points to start the second half. It helped the Buckeyes put serious distance between themselves and the Gophers and reminded us how he can be a factor against bigger lineups.
Photo by Jim Davidson
5. Diebler’s impact often overlooked. With all the talk of Sullinger and Lighty and even Lauderdale, the one guy who always seems to get forgotten is Diebler. He had only 10 points Sunday, but his threes came at critical times for the Buckeyes and helped them build a large lead over the Gophers. More importantly, the threat of his outside shooting forced Tubby Smith—just as it has many coaches—to pay special attention to where he was on the floor at all times.
There’s a reason Diebler plays more minutes than anyone else on the team, and it has as much to do with his leadership and selfless play as it does with his scoring ability.
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