Breaking Down the Loss to Duke
By Brandon Castel
DURHAM, N.C. — Wednesday’s 73-68 loss at Duke was a bitter pill for Ohio State fans to swallow, and rightly so. Much like the loss to Kansas down in New Orleans, the Buckeyes controlled the game for most of the night before letting it slip away at the end.
There was a lot this team can take away from its effort at Cameron Indoor Stadium, and a number of important questions that must now be answered moving forward.
What Went Right
Just about everything in the first half, at least on defense. The Buckeyes had some serious issues on the offensive end, which we will get into later, but their defense came out firing out all cylinders.
This team has a chance to be really special on that end of the court, especially if Amir Williams can develop his low-post game on defense. Shannon Scott is going to be a menace, Lenzelle Smith is a good on-ball defender and Sam Thompson has the length to do just about everything.
It was impressive to watch this team control a game on defense for an entire half, especially playing in one of the most hostile environments in the country against a team that might be No. 1 America.
What Went Wrong: Defense
Just about everything in the second half. Give the Buckeyes credit for fighting back after Duke stormed back to take the lead with just 5:42 left in the game, but it’s their own fault they were in that position to begin with.
Ohio State allowed just 23 points in the first half and looked like one of the best defensive teams in the country. Aaron Craft had Quinn Cook on lockdown while Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson were making plays all over the court on defense.
Even Amir Williams got in on the action with a big block to close out the first half, but things basically fell apart from there. Ohio State actually took a double-digit lead with the first score of the second half, but by the first media timeout (after the 15-minute mark), the Blue Devils had already cut the deficit to just three.
How did that happen? Pretty simply, actually. Mason Plumlee threw down a couple slam dunks, Ryan Kelly stepped out for a long jump shot, and Rasheed Sulaimon scored the first of what would be 17 points for him in the second half.
The most disappointing part had to be the way this team closed out on Sulaimon, who was throwing it in the ocean after a scoreless first half. Whether it was Sam Thompson, Lenzelle Smith or someone else, no one seemed to get the memo that Duke’s talented young freshman was heating up.
He hit two more jumpers and Plumlee scored an easy layup before Sulaimon drilled another three to make it a 1-point game with 6:52 to play. That had to be the most disappointing aspect for Matta on Wednesday, because he had to expect Plumlee would get his.
Duke’s All-American big man finished with a robust 21 points and 17 rebounds, but it was Sulaimon and Ryan Kelly who really hurt the Buckeyes with their outside shooting down the stretch – and Cook finished them off at the free throw line.
What Went Wrong: Offense
It’s easy to point back to the fact Ohio State had a 31-23 lead at halftime, but it could have – and realistically should have – been a whole lot more. The Buckeyes easily could have been up by 12 or 14 points at the break if they had just cashed in on some easy baskets.
The longer the game went on like that, the more it seemed Ohio State was leaving the door open just wide enough for Duke to come storming back throughand they did, but the Buckeyes really gave this game away on the offensive end of the floor.
They shot just 32 percent from the field in the first half – which was supposed to be their “good” half – and made just 4-13 from behind the arc. More alarming was the fact the Buckeyes had just six assists on 23 made field goals.
Part of that was the fact Deshaun Thomas was in foul trouble and only played 10 of the 20 minutes in the first half, but the way Ohio State shot the ball in the first half was only a precursor for the way things would go in the second.
While there are a lot of good things Matta can take away from this game, the one lingering question will be about scoring. Who is going to score the ball with any kind of consistency when Thomas is either A) not on the floor, or B) double-teamed to a point where he would only be forcing up bad shots.
During the game I questioned Matta’s decision to let Craft and Shannon Scott shoot the ball down the stretch while Thomas seemed to stand around the perimeter like a glorified screen-setter. According to Matta, Duke was content to give OSU point guards an open look off the screen as long as it meant keeping the ball away from Thomas.
That turned out to be a brilliant decision, and while I still think they have to find a way to get Thomas some looks down the stretch, no matter what the defense is doing, there is a larger issue at play here.
Who is going to be the No. 2 scoring option? It was supposed to be Craft, and Matta got the looks he wanted for his junior late in the game, but Craft faltered in clutch time. The same could be said for Scott and Smith, who combined to shoot 5-20 from the floor.
Matta admitted he probably should have gotten LaQuinton Ross into the game earlier in the second half, but that’s going to be a battle he fights with Evil Thad all year long. Putting in Ross means taking out one of those defenders Matta loves to have on the floor: either Thompson, Smith or Scott.
If Craft or Smith cannot become that consistent No. 2 scoring option, he may have no other choice.
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