First Thoughts From the 74-66 Win Over South Carolina
By Tony Gerdeman
Road games are never easy--even when they are, and they're never going to be easy when you lose the best player on your team to injury.
When Jared Sullinger went down with what Thad Matta is now calling a bone bruise, not only did it deflate the Buckeyes, but it also inflated the Gamecocks.
Not only did Ohio State have to overcome a road opponent, they had to overcome a road opponent with a living, breathing hope to win, and the longer that hope lasted, the more it began turning into belief.
When South Carolina went to the half with a four-point lead, they absolutely believed that they could win the game. The Buckeyes came out in the second half, however, and went on a 10-2 run to make sure that that belief never turned into expectation.
Ohio State took a pretty good shot on Saturday, but they were never flustered. They were never panicked. Despite the number of underclassmen on this team, they have experienced much bigger games, and it helped them today.
It also didn't hurt to have the home crowd advantage on the road. The Buckeyes should certainly thank the fans for some measure of this win.
First Thought - Is it okay if we just go ahead and get the Deshaun Thomas fawning out of the way early? This is going to turn into the R-S-T-L-N-E portion of First Thoughts, I can already tell.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Thomas scored 30 points on 13-16 from the field, and only two of those points came from free throws. It's hard to get more efficient than Thomas was.
In fact, he was 11-11 from the field inside the three-point line. Over his last two games he's 19-21 from that range.
His touch from twelve feet and in is superb, and unusual. Players generally aim those shots because they don't have the touch for them. They use the backboard for just this reason. Thomas doesn't need to. He has uncanny touch from short range, and his little one-handed push shot will average him six or eight points per game for the rest of his career.
When his team needed him today, he gave them everything he had, and it was simply too much for the Gamecocks.
Thomas is a shoo-in to be the Big Ten Player of the Week this week after averaging 26.5 points per game on ridiculous shooting numbers. He is a junkyard dog under the basket and a stone-cold killer away from it.
Naturally, with performances like this, talk is soon going to turn to the NBA for Thomas. However, I will continue to point out that he is basically shooting-guard height with tweener forward game. He can't put the ball on the floor consistently against guards, and for that reason alone, Buckeye fans should have him here for at least another year.
Oh, and eventually I'll have to take some time to talk about his defense as well, because it's not getting enough notice.
Foot for Thought - If Sullinger is going to be gone for any period of time, or gone for bits and pieces throughout the season, the Buckeyes will have to become two completely different teams.
Jared Sullinger ended up on crutches at South Carolina
Photo by Jim Davidson
When they have Sullinger, they are one of the top teams in the country. When they lose him, however, they don't suddenly become a mediocre team. They still have Aaron Craft, William Buford, Deshaun Thomas and a host of young, talented depth that would like to be given a shot to play.
They're still talented enough without Sullinger to win the conference, but the difficulty will come from having to flip the switch so often.
Today, they couldn't flip the switch until Matta got them in at halftime and unscrewed the team's battery compartment. You'd think they'd put that thing in a more convenient place.
Shooting Guard Thought - Against USC-Upstate it looked like Sam Thompson had possibly passed Jordan Sibert on the depth chart at shooting guard, but on Saturday we saw that nothing could be further from the truth.
Sibert was into the game fairly early, but missed a pair of three-pointers. In fact, he was in so early that I wondered if Matta was just trying to keep his confidence up and let him know that he had not been passed by.
It's a good move by Matta. The Buckeyes certainly need to find some three-point shooting somewhere, because the 5-16 they shot against South Carolina isn't a good effort.
Still, I'm not sure how that justifies absolutely no playing time for Thompson until the 23-second mark. Maybe he had a bad day or two of practice.
I thought the game that he played against USC-Upstate would have earned him more time, but it's clear that Matta still doesn't have the confidence to trust him in an actual game yet.
Pressure Building Thought - Evan Ravenel had some rough moments following Sullinger's injury, especially the second time Sullinger left the game.
Evan Ravenal gets some encouragement from Thad Matta
Photo by Jim Davidson
It almost looked like Ravenel had this realization hit him that he might have to be Jared Sullinger this year, and the pressure was just too much for him.
He has played very well when playing as himself, but has struggled when trying to be more.
If Sullinger is lost for any considerable length of time, Ravenel has to continue playing his game, and not worry about playing anybody else's.
The success of this team is going to come from knowing and trusting all of the moving parts, and it's hard to trust parts that aren't true to their game or their role.
Matta's Thought Process Thought - South Carolina closed the first half strong, and part of that strong closing was the fact that Ohio State went the final 4:08 without a field goal.
That drought featured two open jumpers that were missed by Lenzelle Smith. Smith's shooting can be a liability for a team looking for offense, and that certainly described the Buckeyes in the first half.
Matta stuck with Smith in the second half and was rewarded when he scored seven points over a span of 2:22 that secured the lead for good for the Buckeyes.
Smith scored nine points in the second half, and pulled down nine rebounds for the game. I've written in the past how Smith performs the unseen for this team, but without Sullinger, he was asked to do more of the "seen".
He struggled in the first half, but stepped up in the second half big time. He needs to continue this trend, and right now all he is missing for this team is a consistent jumper.
Final Thought - If Sullinger does miss some considerable time, Aaron Craft better expect to play 40 minutes every night. Having Craft and Sullinger sitting at the same time is a recipe for empty possessions and turnovers. It's a terrible recipe; worse than fruitcake soaked in kerosene.
Season Stats Year to Date
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