First Thoughts after Northwestern

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Last updated: 03/01/2012 2:36 AM
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Men's Basketball
First Thoughts From a 75-73 Win at Northwestern
By Tony Gerdeman

Every road win in conference play is a good win, and this one was as well. It doesn't matter how it finished, because good teams have a way of closing things out in desperate times, and that's what Northwestern did tonight.

None of that would have ever happened had Lenzelle Smith not been called for an absolutely terrible travel. First off, he was fouled. Secondly, he didn't travel. I'm a stickler for traveling, and I didn't see it there at all.

But a win is a win, regardless of how close it didn't need to be. Buckeye fans shouldn't be upset about this win, they should be thrilled that Ohio State didn't blow the game and lose it completely.

First Thought

I don't even like asking this question, but the numbers are too jarring to ignore. William Buford only played nine minutes in the first half and the Buckeye outscored Northwestern by ten points. He then played 18 minutes in the second half, and the Wildcats outscored Ohio State by eight points. Is that just a coincidence? Is there any correlation?

One half could be considered coincidence. Two halves seems too strong a statistic to chalk up to chance.

He finished the game 3-10 from the field and 0-4 from three-point territory. He did have six rebounds and four assists, so it's not like he didn't do anything positive.

Still, it's a stat that I just can't ignore, even if I hate the idea of talking about it.

Sharpshooting Thought

Wednesday night's game was just your standard "Rely on Aaron Craft's deft three-point shooting touch to overcome an overmatched opponent" type of game. You know, the type of game you didn't know the Buckeyes could actually win.

Craft hit 4-5 from three-point range, which tied his career-high for makes. But I was more impressed with the way in which he did it, more so than just the fact that he actually managed to do it.

Mainly, he was catching and shooting, and he wasn't hesitating. He was taking shots early in the shot clock and there was no questioning his confidence.

With the rest of the team combining to shoot 2-14 from three-point territory, Craft's career night could not have come at a better time.

Abundant Thought

How about that rebounding tonight? Ohio State outrebounded Northwestern 44-18. Heck, Jared Sullinger had as many rebounds as the Wildcats did. In fact, his eleven offensive rebounds almost outnumbered Northwestern's twelve defensive rebounds.

It was a game that was dominated on the boards, but failed to translate to the scoreboard. The math becomes easier to understand when you consider that Northwestern hit 13-27 (48%) of the three-point shots.

It doesn't really matter how many rebounds you can come up with when your opponent is hitting from deep like that.

The Buckeyes finished with 20 offensive rebounds on 29 missed shots. That is an outrageous statistic that should have led to a 15-point win. Instead, it led to a two-point win in the final three seconds. There's really no trying to figure it out. It will never make sense.

Crafty Thought

No, I'm not talking about Aaron Craft. I'm talking about Thad Matta's decision to allow much of the offense to flow through Lenzelle Smith instead of Craft.

It was clearly effective, as Smith finished with a career-high seven assists. But I think the real purpose was to keep Smith from drifting off into the background and becoming a wallflower.

This team is better when he is an offensive threat—and that doesn't even have to mean scoring. He just needs to be involved in the ball movement, and tonight he definitely was. He had some fantastic passes, and even found time to manage a little bit of scoring for himself on the night.

Though I do wonder how much of this was by Matta's design, and how much came from the fact that Shannon Scott was starting to see increased minutes, and Smith decided he better do something about that.

Hopeful Thought

When William Buford left the game with foul trouble, Sam Thompson was brought in and he was matched up against John Shurna, the Big Ten's leading scorer.

He actually held his own for the most part, though he did give up a couple of easy baskets. Still, Thompson played 16 minutes on the night, and was part of the defense that held Shurna to 7-19 shooting from the field.

It was pretty clear that Thad Matta was seeing if maybe Thompson could have the defensive versatility that David Lighty always had.

There's no doubt that Thompson can defend guards, but tonight he was checking a bigger man, and I don't think he did too bad. Obviously he has to get stronger, but it could be an interesting defensive future to behold for Thompson.

Oh, and if his shooting doesn't improve, his offensive future will also be interesting, but painfully so.

Promising Thought

Jared Sullinger vowed to be more like himself in this game, and all he did was score 22 points—including the game winner, grab 18 rebounds, hand out three outstanding assists and block two shots. He certainly fulfilled his promise.

However, he also let the game get to him late. I don't really buy the excuse that he's just a sophomore, because his maturity level has always been so much higher than his actual standing.

Teams are going to attack Sullinger physically in the hopes that it also attacks him mentally. He needs to separate the two for his own sake.

He was very lucky that he wasn't given a technical foul tonight when he threw the ball over his head as he walked away from a play late in the game. It could have cost the Buckeyes the win, and if you ever put the referees in a position to take a win away from you, you deserve to lose in the most painful way imaginable.

Final Thought

How about when Aaron Craft had his pocket picked on a drive just like he always does to everyone else?

I couldn't help but think of White Goodman from 'Dodgeball'—"Nobody makes me bleed my own blood—nobody!"

Still, it was pretty concerning. It was one of four turnovers for Craft, and he didn't get his first assist until late. His second one, of course, ended up being the game-winner to Jared Sullinger.

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