First Thoughts From a 78-68 Win at Minnesota
By Tony Gerdeman
The Buckeyes came into this game with the taste of a home loss to Michigan State still in their mouths, and usually a game at Minnesota in a situation like this is anything but basketball Scope.
However, they regrouped, they matured, and they certainly answered some of the criticisms that had been floated their way over the last few days.
With a game at Ann Arbor on Saturday, this was a classic trap game for a team that may have been doubting itself. Instead, the Buckeyes set the tone early and rode it for all forty minutes.
The Gophers made some runs, but there was never any of the panic that we saw against the Spartans. For the Buckeyes, the leaders led, and everybody else followed. It's a winning combination that sometimes gets forgotten—even by the leaders.
Every win on the road in the Big Ten is a win to appreciate. None of them are easy and they all carry significant weight.
Williams Arena was a good practice round for what the Buckeyes are going to face to end the season, but now the championship rounds begin. Things are about to become a good bit more difficult.
When William Buford is on, this team can win a national championship. When he's not, they can't. The problem is that you never know which William Buford you're going to get.
Tonight, the Buckeyes got the William Buford that other teams fear. He scored a game-high 24 points on 10-17 shooting and showed a level of patience that seniors need to display.
Even shooting as well as he was at times, he still looked for better shots, which probably explains why he was able to make 10 of 17 in the first place.
He opened the game by scoring Ohio State's first seven points, but was consistent throughout. Helping him with that consistency was the fact that the Gophers would routinely leave him alone, which then gave him the option of shooting quickly or putting the ball on the floor and getting a better shot.
After shooting 2-12 against the Spartans while shooting many of these same types of shots, the consistency that Buford has played with this season, or maybe rather without, isn't any more evident than in these last two games.
This team has no chance in March if Buford isn't shooting well. His importance is going to grow with each successive game. You have to wonder if that type of pressure will take its toll, or will his teammates lift him up and share the load.
Freshman Amir Williams played three minutes tonight, and in his first minute of play he had two offensive rebounds, tipped a pass on his first defensive possession and then followed that up with a blocked shot on the same possession.
Yet he wouldn't see the court in the second half.
Thad Matta has said that Williams struggles in closing out on the perimeter, which is why he's only seeing time at center in place of Jared Sullinger.
What this means to me is not that Williams can't close out, it's that Sullinger can't close out if they were to play together. Williams could play center and Sullinger would slide to the four, which his offensive game allows.
Let's not pretend like everybody else is great at closing out, because they absolutely haven't been of late. This is not just one player's problem.
But Sullinger's defense clearly makes this lineup not work for Matta. It's really too bad that Williams can't see the court more because he always does something while he's out there. He may be on the bench for the one thing that he can't do, but he should still be on the floor for everything else he can do.
It's crazy, I know.
How about that usage of the bench by Matta tonight? We already talked about Amir Williams, but Shannon Scott was in there quickly, and even Jordan Sibert got some time in the first half.
It almost seemed like a reaction to the lack of time they received against Michigan State, and fortunately for them, they performed in the time given.
The bench actually extended the lead against the Gophers, and were very instrumental in the 20-0 run in the first half that gave the Buckeyes the cushion that won the game for them.
In fact, when the starters returned to the game with just over seven minutes remaining in the first half, the Buckeyes lead it 32-12. Minnesota closed on a 16-8 run.
It was clear that the bench helped tonight in pretty much every facet. It was good to see, and would be good to see it continue.
I enjoyed Jared Sullinger showing the type of offensive game that he will be using next year in the NBA. With his skill set, there is no need for him to stay camped in the paint and get banged around like he's in the middle of a mosh pit.
Instead, he took the ball outside and didn't hesitate on jumpers. When he didn't want to shoot, he faked the shot and then dribbled around his defender.
He doesn't have to be under the basket to be an effective and dominating player, and he'll probably show that quite a bit more as he closes out his college career.
I had to chuckle when Mike Tirico was talking about how effective Minnesota's zone defense had been against the Buckeyes. Giving up open shots that don't go in isn't effective defense, it's fortunate defense.
That fortunate defense didn't last too long, however, as enough shots went down for the Buckeyes to force the Gophers back into a man defense.
It also didn't help Minnesota when the Buckeyes got offensive rebounds on those misses. So yeah, that wasn't a very effective defense at all when you think about it.
I said this a month or so ago, but when Shannon Scott gets into the paint, he has to complete his drive and try to score. Twice tonight he threw terrible passes when he had already gone past his man and into the paint.
One of those passes was a turnover, and the other one should have been as well. Scott is a very nice playmaker, but a true playmaker has to know the limitations of the passing lanes.
That experience and knowledge will come with time, assuming that time ever comes to him, of course.
Minnesota's Andre Hollins should have absolutely been given a technical foul for throwing a basketball at Jared Sullinger in the second half of tonight's game, and possibly ejected.
I don't know what the difference is between throwing a basketball with intent versus throwing an elbow with intent. They can both do damage, and the intent is the same in either case.
To not even have Hollins talked to, or even have the referees get together to talk about what they had just seen was ridiculous.
Everybody knew what the intent was. Would it have been different if it happened on the court during play? You can't just fire a basketball at somebody if you're not falling out of bounds. Even then, those types of plays are aimed at the legs.
Hollins knew exactly what he was doing and he got away with it. Call it 'The Minnesota Way', I guess.
Same as it ever was.
Last week I said that Aaron Craft needed to become more of a playmaker for his teammates, and in the first half tonight he had five assists. It was the highest number of assists he had in a game since January 15th.
Unfortunately, he also finished the game with five assists, but at least he's listening to me, which is more than I can say for anyone else.
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