Practice Report: Final Four

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Last updated: 03/30/2012 6:22 PM

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Men's Basketball
Practice Report: Buckeyes Hit Hardwood in Superdome

By Brandon Castel

NEW ORLEANS — It seemed both fitting and eerily strange that Ohio State’s basketball team is now occupying the same locker room once inhabited by the school’s football team.

With the Tulane logo marking the entrance to the locker room Ohio State used for the 2011 Sugar Bowl—which was the last game of Jim Tressel’s coaching career with the Buckeyes—Thad Matta and the Buckeyes hit the hardwood Friday at the Superdome in New Orleans.

The arena will hold more than 70 thousand fans come Saturday night, but there were only a few hundred in the stands to watch Ohio State practice on the raised court on Friday.

It’s weird to think the last time we were in this building, Solomon Thomas was picking off Ryan Mallett to preserve a Sugar Bowl victory that is no longer recognized by the NCAA.

The streamers were pouring on to the field as Terrelle Pryor could barely walk his way to the podium to accept his trophy. That was also the last time OSU fans would see Pryor in a Buckeye uniform.

Matta Making Best of Situation

I only mention that because it was tough watching Thad get up and down the court during Friday’s practice. He walks with a bad limp and really has to stay away from the action to make sure he doesn’t have to dive out of the way, but doesn’t miss a beat.

Matta never complains about the bad foot, and he certainly doesn’t look for any sympathy in practice. He spends a lot of his time talking with assistants Chris Jent and Dave Dickerson, but also gets over to talk with Jared Sullinger when he’s not in the action.

Matta and Jent spent most of the day coaching Sullinger and the first-team guys—which includes Evan Ravenel during practice—while Dickerson and Jeff Boals did a lot of work with the second-team guys.

That includes Amir Williams, but also Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson, two of Ohio State’s most active players off the bench.

Scrimmage Notes

It wouldn’t be an Ohio State practice without Aaron Craft scraping his knee within the first five minutes. Craft dove on the floor for a loose ball and then lifted his shorts to show Scott his bloody knee.

Just another day in the life of Aaron Craft, who absolutely sets the tone for Ohio State in practice. Craft stays on his teammates to keep the energy level up in practice, and he doesn’t take it easy on Shannon Scott or anyone else he’s guarding.

At one point, Scott did get around Craft thanks to a screen and he went all the way to the basket for a nice layup high off the glass. It was the kind of play I’ve been waiting to see Scott make in a game all season.

Scott and LaQuinton Ross were the primary ball-handlers for the second-team, and it was impressive to watch Ross put the ball on the floor and get to the basket. He did it a few times with Lenzelle Smith and William Buford covering him, but did have a bad turnover that led to an alley-oop dunk from Buford, who threw the ball off the backboard to a soaring Lenzelle Smith in transition.

Ross also had a nice play where he drove to the basket, drew a second defender and dished an over-the-shoulder pass to Trey McDonald, but McDonald couldn’t hang on to the ball.

Buford Heating Up?

One of the best signs for Ohio State Friday was the fact Will Buford was knocking down his shots, or at least most of them. Buford had a number of good looks off the catch-and-shoot and the ball was going in the hoop for him.

Buford admitted after practice that he has not been following through on his shots the way he usually does. Instead, he has just been flicking the ball at the basket, hoping it will go in.

He has spent this week focusing on his follow-through, and it certainly looked good Friday in practice. No one will remember that if it doesn’t look good on Saturday.

Splitting Things Up

After running a scrimmage between the first group and the second group for a while, Matta and his coaches split the team into three groups to work on half-court offense and defense.

Sullinger and Craft were teamed with Lenzelle Smith and LaQuinton Ross while Buford and Deshaun Thomas went with Amir Williams, Evan Ravenel and Jordan Sibert. That left Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson to go with J.D. Weatherspoon and Trey McDonald.

Weatherspoon showed off his range during the team scrimmage, knocking down a pair of silky-smooth three-pointers that most people didn’t know he had in his repertoire. Known as a big-time dunker, Weatherspoon’s shot looked pretty good in practice Friday.

Playing Without Sully

The same can be said for Sullinger, who knocked down a three on the wing over top of Amir Williams. Sullinger was engaged and was taking a lot of jumpers during practice, but just like games, he would get frustrated with himself after any missed shots.

After one miss, he clapped his hands together and said, “Oh Sully.”

Sullinger did get a nice block on the defensive end against Sam Thompson, but Thompson repaid the favor with a big-time block on Craft, who had gotten all the way to the basket for a layup attempt.

The Buckeyes did a lot of stuff in their half court sets without Sullinger, which is something they have had to do quite a bit this year, including the first half against Syracuse.

When Sullinger wasn’t in the game, he was often standing next to Matta yelling things in to Ravenel. Sullinger quickly got back in the game, and when he did, threw a perfect bounce pass to Thomas in the corner for a wide-open three.

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