First Thoughts From the Buckeyes' 81-66 Win Over Cincinnati in the NCAA Tournament
By Tony Gerdeman
The ability to take a punch is a very prominent characteristic in quality basketball teams, especially when that team is playing the Cincinnati Bearcats.
The Buckeyes built a twelve-point halftime lead against Cincinnati, and then proceeded to take their best shot as the Bearcats went on a 21-6 lead to take the lead 46-43 with under thirteen minutes to play.
Ohio State got punched squarely on the chin, took a knee to recover, got back up, brushed the dust off, cracked their knuckles menacingly, and then said, "Now it's my turn."
The Buckeyes then closed on a 38-20 run over the final 12:29 to put this game out of reach for a second time on the night.
It was a dominating effort that was made more impressive because the Bearcats had seemingly taken the momentum of the game and had their confidence peaking as the game was getting ready to close out.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Instead, the Buckeyes snatched back control like a Bearcat giving a dribbling exhibition against Aaron Craft and Craft not having the patience for it. It was abrupt and it was forceful. Cincinnati simply couldn't do anything about it.
The Bearcats play up their tough stereotype, but after they gave the Buckeyes their very best and the Buckeyes didn't buckle, Cincinnati waned. They spent themselves of their delusions, and could no longer keep up appearances.
The Bearcats were beaten and they knew it. Things got so bad that Cincinnati almost stopped talking trash.
I wrote in this space last week that it was time for William Buford to become a complementary player and not an integral one. I think he listened to me in this game.
With how cold Buford has been of late—he was 1-8 in this game from the field—it only makes sense to look at other options to pick up his scoring slack. Fortunately, the Buckeyes have been able to do that the last couple of nights with Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith.
Buford as a complementary feature can allow for his poor shooting because Ohio State isn't relying on him. Even though he was just 1-8 from the field, I thought he did a fair job of not going 1-14.
In other words, he didn't keep shooting.
But we can't talk about his performance without also mentioning his huge three-pointer to cut Cincinnati's four-point lead to one with under twelve minutes to play.
He is in the game for a reason, and when that reason isn't being realized, he can have the tendency to force things. He should be credited with remaining somewhat calm, despite what must be constant swirling in the head.
Though it seems that Thad Matta may want to switch Buford's mindset to 'First do no harm'.
The Buckeyes only played eight players tonight, and two of the three reserves (Sam Thompson and Evan Ravenel) played just two minutes.
Shannon Scott played 16 minutes tonight and did a quality job of running the point for Ohio State.
When Scott was subbed in during the second half for William Buford, the Buckeyes lead it 55-53 with around nine minutes remaining in the game. With Scott at the point, and Buford on the bench, the Buckeyes went on a 15-6 run.
They never looked back after that.
Scott helped Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith break the press with ease and finished with three assists and just one turnover. It was a needed outing for the freshman and he never looked out of his comfort zone—provided he wasn't shooting the ball, of course.
I discovered tonight that the best way to defend the Bearcats was to let them shoot jumpers. They would have no answer for my defense. I would tell my players to get up in their faces, and then once they got the ball, back off about ten feet and say, "Pfft. I'll give you that all day."
As we all know, a Cincinnati Bearcat can't be disrespected like that, so they would have no choice but to shoot the open jumper, and then I'd already have half my team down in the paint rebounding.
Photo by Jim Davidson
One of the reasons that this was a very good win for the Buckeyes is that they built leads in two different ways.
In the first half, they abused Cincinnati's zone defense with Deshaun Thomas in the lane and Lenzelle Smith on the baseline. Thomas and Sullinger hit the glass, and played some hellacious two-main basketball between them.
Then in the second half Cincinnati changed things up and scrapped their zone defense. It took the Buckeyes five or six minutes to adjust, but they finally got there. Once they did, they dominated the Bearcats just like they had in the first half, only different.
Their ability to excel against different defenses is what makes a team like this a difficult out in the tournament.
CBS needs to get rid of their silly zipline camera and eight-miles up view from above. They are terrible angles and diminish what we can actually see on our televisions.
Television sports directors are some of the dumbest people on the planet, and they never fail to fail me.
Clearly, these new shots with this camera were like a kid with a new toy, but it's a toy that nobody else wants and nobody is impressed by.
"Hey everybody, look at my brand new Hasbro Fecal Organizer!"
Right now, I think about 74% of all Buckeye fans (male and female) would leave their significant other for a serious relationship with Aaron Craft, and none of their friends or family would look at them with anything but complete understanding.
"How could you not!" they'd say, "He's Aaron Craft, for crying out loud."
The best thing about him is that he plays basketball the way it is supposed to be played—constantly. Defensively, he's relentless like a waterfall. He just keeps coming, wave after wave. He's a one-man infantry.
It was amazing to watch him defend in this game. Clearly, the Bearcats had no idea he was going to be this disruptive. He finished with six steals, and probably caused six more than went to his teammates.
Several times Cincinnati players were looking to challenge him off the dribble. They had their moments early in the game, but after that, Craft battened them down like hatches in a hurricane.
Photo by Jim Davidson
I said in this week's Water Cooler that Jared Sullinger would be the key to an Ohio State national championship. After tonight's first half performance, I was almost going to have to side with Ben Axelrod's choice of Deshaun Thomas.
However, I stuck with Sullinger and he never slumped. He didn't have one great half and then one blech half. He scored ten points and grabbed nine rebounds in the first half, and then scored 13 more points in the second half.
He was Ohio State's one offensive constant in this game, and that's exactly what he'll need to remain if the Buckeyes are going to win it all.
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