First Thoughts From Ohio State's 68-55 Win Over Illinois
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Despite the sterile environment of Value City Arena, Illinois still passed on some of their sickness to the Buckeyes, leading to a lackadaisical win against a fairly indifferent Illini team.
I don't think the Buckeyes really expected much of a challenge, but they certainly got one for the first half of the first half. Illinois led the game 17-15 with 9:00 to play when Thad Matta went to his smallest lineup.
He went with Shannon Scott, Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith, Sam Thompson and Deshaun Thomas for those final nine minutes, and they responded with an 18-7 run to close out the half.
The run gave the Buckeyes a nine-point halftime lead and they used it as a buffer for the rest of the game. When Matta needed a spark in that first half, he went to the one place that he knew would provide it.
Reliability and trust are must-haves for a coach, and though Matta can't always go to the small ball look, it has to be comforting to know that it's always available when a situation arises.
Four Guards is the New Three Guards. When Matta went with four guards, there were obviously going to be rebounding and defensive concerns. Illinois got their hands on a few offensive rebounds, but they never scored a single second-chance point against the small lineup.
In fact, here are the results of every Buckeye defensive possession for the final 9:00:
1st possession: Turnover by Tyler Griffey.
2nd possession: Forced a deep three (miss) with the shot clock expiring.
3rd possession: Fastbreak three (make) by Griffey.
4th possession: Griffey missed a quick three. Offensive rebound, missed layup.
5th possession: Missed jumper.
6th possession: Brandon Paul drove quickly and hit a floater.
7th possession: Missed shot, offensive rebound. Missed put back. Offensive rebound. Missed putback. No points.
8th possession: Missed three by Paul.
9th possession: Missed quick shot by D.J. Richardson.
10th possession: Steal by Shannon Scott.
11th possession: Missed three by Richardson, offensive rebound, steal by Sam Thompson.
12th possession: Paul fouled on drive, makes two free throws.
13th possession: Missed jumper by Tracy Abrams.
14th possession: Steal by Deshaun Thomas.
15th possession: Missed jumper by Tracy Abrams.
16th possession: Halfcourt heave off the back iron.
Out of Illinois' 16 possessions, they scored on three of them. Granted, the Illini are as hit-and-miss as any team the Buckeyes will play from here on out, but it's still a pretty good sign defensively.
As far as the Buckeyes being at a disadvantage when it comes to rebounding, Shannon Scott had four rebounds by himself in those nine minutes, so there are ways to combat it.
Ohio State also had four steals during that final 9:00 of the first half. Basically, when the Buckeyes go to their four-guard look, the opposing offense has to be much safer with the basketball because the overall hand-quickness of the defense is so much greater.
It would also help if the opposition would convert their offensive rebounds into points. Until they do, the small lineup isn't actually being hurt.
Finding Ways To Be Effective. Shannon Scott didn't have a great offensive game. He finished with seven points and three assists, but he had four turnovers.
However, defensively, he was everywhere. He had seven defensive rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot. He was involved in nearly every loose ball. He was a havoc-maker from the outset.
I don't think it is a question anymore that Ohio State's best lineup is with Scott in it. I'm not sure when that was last a legitimate question.
The Buckeyes outscored Illinois by 14 points in Scott's 28 minutes. That's a rate of return that anybody can get behind.
Give or Take. While Shannon Scott's +14 is nice, it was only the fourth-highest number on the team.
Deshaun Thomas finished with a +16, Aaron Craft had a +18, and Sam Thompson had a ridiculous +19 in just 28 minutes of action. Thompson scored just five points on 1-6 shooting, but he either truly impacted the game, or he was simply on the court at the right time.
Remember, however, he was on the court for the first six minutes of the game, and when he came out, the score was tied 8-8. So that means over his next 22 minutes of play, the Buckeyes outscored the Illini by 19 points. I'm not sure that can be called coincidence.
Pass/Fail. I tweeted during the game that I haven't seen such terrible passing by the Buckeyes since every football game of the 2011 season.
There was some very lazy passing with some very poor angles. Just because Illinois wasn't really trying all that hard doesn't mean they weren't going to intercept passes that were thrown right to them.
When you struggle on offense like the Buckeyes do, it's best to make the opposing defense work for every turnover. Giving them freebies only allows them to keep the energy that they should have had to exert in order to get the steal that was given directly to them.
I'm okay with attributing today's lackluster effort to comfort. After all, how many of us get extremely lazy when we're extremely comfortable?
If you're comfortable on your couch, yet can't find the remote, what are you going to do, get up and look for it, or just take a nap? Exactly.
Quick Thoughts. I really liked the way that Sam Thompson started the game on offense. He was shooting early and often. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, he opened 1-3 from the field in the game's first few minutes. I want to see what he can do when he's on and he keeps shooting. Or if he would even keep shooting. ... Shannon Scott was keeping plays alive like he was the 'Dr. House' of the Buckeyes. ... It's growing increasingly uncomfortable watching Lenzelle Smith refuse to pass the ball to Deshaun Thomas in the post, and the subsequent reaction from Thomas. ... I liked what LaQuinton Ross did today on offense when he was inside the three-point line. ... I thought it was interesting that Matta didn't go to the small lineup in the second half, presumably because Evan Ravenel was playing well. ... Aaron Craft's hands on defense are as constant as a paddle wheel on a river boat. ... It's pretty amazing that this could be a Big Ten Championship team considering where they were three weeks ago. Perhaps now the angry Buckeye fans will give Thad Matta a little bit of credit. ... Actually, they will probably be even more upset with him for wasting a coaching effort like this, and not stocking the team with NBA-ready talent.
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