Five Things We Learned from Payback Loss at Purdue
By Brandon Castel
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Ohio State Head Coach Thad Matta said his team did not have a blueprint for beating Purdue after the way they dismantled the Boilermakers in Columbus earlier this season.
Boy was he right.
With everything riding on Sunday’s game in West Lafayette, Purdue played like a team with its backs against the wall. The Buckeyes had some chances, but E’Twaun Moore willed the Boilers to a 76-63 win in a raucous Mackey Arena.
We take a look at the five things we learned from OSU’s second loss of the season.
1. Sullinger did a much better job getting position. Matta said after the Michigan State game that Jared Sullinger needed to do a better job getting deeper position on the block. Both Wisconsin and MSU were able to push him out away from the basket, making it much tougher for him to turn and score the way he did earlier in the year. Sullinger was much improved in that aspect Sunday. He did not allow JaJuan Johnson or Travis Carroll to push him out of the paint. He set up down low and if he didn’t have the position he liked, he passed it back out and got himself set up in better position. He even picked up a questionable foul fighting for position, but the end result was 25 points and six rebounds in 33 minutes.
2. This team needs more than two options. After 27 games, we all know what Jared Sullinger is capable of doing on the court. He is a double-double waiting to happen, and on most nights he is going to be Ohio State’s No. 1 option at the offensive end. Even an off night is going to yield double-digit points, and that allows for someone else to get space and score. Sunday that was Jon Diebler, who had 11 points on 3-of-6 shooting, but this team needs more than two options. They had four guys in double figures at Purdue, but two of them were David Lighty and Aaron Craft, who combined to go 5-of-16 from the floor.
3. Depth issues cost the Buckeyes a game. One big reason the Buckeyes have had some issues finding a third scorer is the fact they don’t have many options. Dallas Lauderdale isn’t going to score many points on a good night, so that leaves Diebler, Lighty, Craft and William Buford as the second and third scoring options. If a Buford and Lighty are off—the way they were Sunday—and Diebler can’t get his shot, then who else is there? Craft isn’t shooting the ball particularly well as of late, and then there is Deshaun Thomas. Because Matta has not developed Jordan Sibert or Lenzelle Smith, Thomas is now his only option for scoring off the bench.
That puts way too much pressure on guys like Buford and Lighty to be great every night while playing 35 minutes a game. They will tell you they don’t get tired and Matta will say he recruits guys to play 40 minutes, but those guys aren’t getting to the same 50-50 balls in their 37th and 38th minutes as they are in their 27th and 28th minutes.
4. Thomas is a mess right now. The third-leading scorer in the history of Indiana high school basketball, Thomas was supposed to provide instant offense off the bench for this team the way Daequan Cook did for the 2006-07 team. In fact, Thomas was supposed to bring more than Cook did because of his ability to score inside as well as out. That hasn’t been the case. Since dropping 13 against Purdue in the first meeting, Thomas has scored a total of seven points in six games. He continues to shoot the ball like he’s been making them all, but something is not right with Thomas right now. We know the kid can score, because he did it at an elite level in high school and AAU, but he does not seem to have an understanding of his role on the team. The players and coaches have all raved about his attitude towards the situation, but even the way he sauntered off the court, swinging both arms in the air, when Matta benched him Sunday screams that something is off.
With Buford and Sullinger in foul trouble, Thomas had a chance to play the hero Sunday. He hoisted up six shots and did not connect on any of them. The shots themselves looked terrible, either clanging off the back iron, or barely reaching the rim like his wide-open three attempt. If he is at Ohio State for 3-4 years, Thomas could develop into a great player for the Buckeyes, but right now he is a mess of a situation and there is no way they can rely on him to give them anything during important stretches.
5. Buckeyes have a real problem with ball screens. Obviously E’Twaun Moore’s ability to shoot the ball, even with a hand in his face, was the biggest factor in Sunday’s game, at least from a defensive standpoint. The Buckeyes actually did a pretty good job taking away JaJuan Johnson, who finished with 13 points on 4-of-10 shooting, but they allowed Lewis Jackson and Kelsey Barlow to combine for 17 points.
That isn’t a huge jump from the season averages, but it’s the way they got those points that has to be alarming. A number of them came on easy, uncontested baskets around the rim, which should not happen for perimeter players. The Buckeyes have had a serious issue defending high ball screens in over the last month, and the more that shows up on tape, the more teams are going to do it. Wisconsin and Michigan State both ran ball-screen after ball-screen at Aaron Craft, and the Buckeyes did a very poor job of hedging and getting back in position.
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