Can Q stay locked in?

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Last updated: 12/08/2012 3:40 AM

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Men's basketball
Matta Hoping Q Can Stay “Locked In”
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The last time LaQuinton Ross stepped on a basketball court against someone other than his own teammates, the 6-8 sophomore poured in a career-high 22 points off the bench.

LaQuinton Ross
Photo by Jim Davidson
LaQuinton Ross

Not many people saw his big game because, well, it happened against Northern Kentucky University on the Saturday afternoon following Ohio State’s heartbreaking loss at Duke.

The Buckeyes won that game 70-43, so they may not have needed Ross to score against the Norsemen, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a guy come off the bench and score 22 points in 29 minutes.

Ross made eight of his 12 shots from the floor and three of six from behind the arc. He also grabbed a career-high eight rebounds, which is an area Ohio State has struggled in this season, but the Buckeyes want to see their star sophomore bring that same intensity every time he takes the floor.

“LaQuinton is one of the most talented players I’ve had a chance to play with,” senior Evan Ravenel said this week.

“It’s just the fact of him bringing it every night and staying with that same intensity level. He just needs to do that every game.”

Ross has a natural ability to score the basketball unlike anyone on Ohio State roster. Anyone, that is, outside of preseason All-American Deshaun Thomas. The 6-7 junior out of Fort Wayne, Ind. is leading the team in scoring at 21 points a game this season.

As opposing defenses are locking down to take Thomas away, it is more important than ever for a consistent No. 2 scorer to emerge from the rest of the group. Ross seems like the most natural fit, and he leads the team in three-point shooting this season, but consistency is always an issue with young players.

 “He’s pretty smooth. He gets by people and he’s really good in the paint. Obviously he can shoot the basketball, but he has to be ready to shoot,” said OSU assistant Chris Jent, who works with the players on their shot.

“Just like any other player, his feet…he has to get better balance and be more grounded when he catches the basketball, or more in rhythm. That’s a little bit of a contradiction, but his feet have to get a little better and his body position, and he’s going to be able to use his God-given ability.”

According to head coach Thad Matta, Ross has the natural ability to score 20 points every time he steps on a basketball court. He’s 6-8 with a smooth stroke on the outside and he has enough quickness and handle to get past his defender and get to the basket.

He showed all of that in his 22-point performance against NKU, but now he has to prove he can come out and do it again, especially when the game is closer against better competition.

“I told LaQuinton this summer that, ‘Sometimes, the way you think, you’re going to get 20 one game and not score the next game. I want to see how you handle success,’ ” Matta said this week as the Buckeyes prepare to play Long Beach State on Saturday (noon ET, Big Ten Network).

“He has to keep his mind totally focused on exactly what needs to be done every single possession and not float in and out. I think he is getting better at that in terms of a mental toughness.”

Matta left Ross out on the floor, even with the big lead, because he wanted to see how he would handle the responsibly of closing out a game, especially one that was already out of reach.

“I told him with eight minutes to go the other day, ‘Stay locked in. You’ve got eight minutes to go, stay tuned in,’ ” Matta said.

“Then he missed the dunk and I said, ‘You almost did it, but you couldn’t finish it out.’ I think from that perspective he’s grown. That’s just a maturity, just understanding day after day what you need to get accomplished.”

Another challenge for Ross will be finding a way to fit his specific offensive skill set into what the Buckeyes are trying to do as a team. That typically involves moving the basketball and passing up a good shot for a great shot. This team hasn’t been very good at either of those things – two staples of a Thad Matta coached basketball team – but Ross is starting to understand how it all fits together.

“I think that’s only going to get better,” Jent said.

“It’s been a while for him, he hasn’t been on the court in a while, so it’s going to process for him. He’s really trying to buy into all the team concepts and all the things we’re trying to teach as a group. He’s really embraced that.”

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