Fresh Rotation Yields Fresh Results In Winner Over Illini
By Ben Axelrod
COLUMBUS, Ohio — After Ohio State failed to score a single fast-break point in its 56-51 loss to Michigan on Saturday, coach Thad Matta had to find a way for his team to pick up the tempo without wearing them out for a postseason run.
During the Buckeyes’ 83-67 win over Illinois, he may have found the answer to his conundrum.
Matta mixed up his rotation against the Illini (16-12, 5-10), subbing in freshman point guard Shannon Scott fewer than five minutes into the game. Instead of Scott replacing the point guard he typically has spelled this season—Aaron Craft—he replaced shooting guard Lenzelle Smith, Jr. and joined OSU’s starting point guard on the floor.
Scott said that Matta inserted him in the game during the first media timeout with a specific mission in mind.
“He wanted me to get in there and push the ball,” Scott said after playing 22 minutes Tuesday night.
“Really keep the flow going, get into transition so when they got some stops I was able to do that with Craft and just made it happen.”
While it was often discussed prior to the 2011-12 season, the two point-guard look for the Buckeyes rarely saw significant minutes until Tuesday night’s game. Scott said that despite not always having the ball in his hands, playing alongside another point guard helped take some pressure off of him at times.
“It felt good playing with Aaron,” Scott said.
“I feel like it’s a lot easier for me, really. I can get off the ball and just run down the court and just try to make plays like that, so he made it a lot easier for me and I know he’s running, I can push the ball to him and he can make a play with it.”
Matta’s new rotation only yielded four fast break points and Scott didn’t exactly fill up the stat sheet with an 0-for-5 shooting, four assist performance, but that didn’t mean it was a failed experiment.
“It gives them a little more ball-handling, a little more quickness,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said of OSU’s two point guard set.
“Just a different look for them. Scott didn’t get a whole lot done, but it’s another ball-handler.”
Aside from increasing the tempo and adding another playmaker on the floor, the early addition of Scott to the rotation allowed Matta to use his traditional sixth man—Sam Thompson—to replace senior guard William Buford with 13 minutes left in the first half. Buford remained on the bench for four minutes, and the unusual rest that he received was apparent in the box score.
After a 3-for-12, six-point performance against the Wolverines on Saturday, Buford scored 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting on Tuesday. Matta said that the extra rest was crucial for Buford after a two-week schedule that hasn’t been exactly kind to the Buckeyes.
“The last two games we’ve played nine o’clock on the road, got home at 3:30 a.m., got home at 2:30 a.m., and then bam, we’re back at it,” Matta said.
“A lot of factors went into it but one of the biggest things was just monitoring practice and the job that they’ve done there.”
Considering he played in a season-high 22 minutes on Tuesday, it’s apparent that Scott was one of the players who caught the coach’s eye in the two days between the loss to Michigan and the win over Illinois. Judging by Matta’s comments after the game, the Georgia product and former high school All-American didn’t do much to hurt his cause for more playing time moving forward.
“I was very pleased with what we had and the job the guys did,” Matta said.
“Shannon does a great job understanding when to go and when not to go. He obviously did that.”