Could ‘Q’ Be the Answer?
Matta Hoping Ross Can Give Buckeyes Consistent Boost
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Buckeyes have exactly four games over the next 19 days before they welcome Bill Self’s Kansas Jayhawks to Columbus for a rematch of last year’s Final Four contest.
Photo by Jim
That’s 19 days to fix the mistakes that cost them down the stretch in their trip to Duke this past week, and 19 days to figure out other ways to put the ball in the basket besides giving it to preseason All-American Deshaun Thomas.
It was the Jayhawks who knocked Ohio State out of the NCAA Tournament back in March, in a game where Thomas was limited to just nine points on 3-14 shooting in 23 foul-plagued minutes.
But this is a much different OSU team than the one that had the Jayhawks on the ropes in the first half of that game down in New Orleans. As head coach Thad Matta warned, and Ohio State fans have quickly learned, things are a lot different for the Buckeyes when they don’t have trusty ole’ Jared Sullinger down on the block.
Without the big man down in the paint, defenses have been able to swarm Thomas on the offensive end, forcing other players to beat them, preferably with a jump shot. That strategy certainly worked for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski in the second half of the Blue Devil’s 73-68 victory over Ohio State inside an animated Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Matta tried to get big shots from Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott down the stretch, but Buckeyes are hoping they may have found another scorer who can take some of the pressure off Thomas at the offensive end.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“My coaches have been really pushing me in practice and telling me to shoot the ball,” said sophomore LaQuinton Ross, who scored a career-high 22 points against Northern Kentucky on Saturday.
“Tonight I got the opportunity and really thought I played well.”
Matta admitted he probably should have played Ross more during the second half of the Duke game, especially when he realized shots weren’t falling for guys like Craft, Scott and Lenzelle Smith, Jr.
There are a couple reasons Matta hesitated to throw Ross back out there as the game was getting away from the Buckeyes down the stretch. The first of which was the fact it was essentially the first big game of his collegiate career.
“The one with LaQuinton, you constantly have to point out the little things and how important they are in the overall picture,” Matta said.
“Remember, he essentially a freshman right now because he didn’t play a lot last year.”
The other issue with putting Ross in the game during those big moments is the fact it means taking a guy like Smith, Scott Sam Thompson – three guys who can affect the game in so may different ways at the defensive end – off the floor.
It’s still a process, but Matta is getting more comfortable with the idea as he sees Ross making strides, if only small ones, at both ends of the floor.
“I thought he was very efficient today when he was on the floor today,” Matta said after the 70-43 win over NKU on Saturday.
“The more he plays, the more overall confidence he’s going to gain. He is (gaining my confidence). I felt like going into today’s game that he was going to play well, and he did.”
Along with his 22 points – on 8-of-14 shooting – Ross also blocked a shot and added a career-high eight rebounds in 29 minutes off the bench.
“It’s going to help us a lot having guys like Shannon and Q come off the bench,” said Thomas, who scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half of that game.
“Teams are going to double-team me a lot and having them there to step up is what we need.”
Matta said Ross reminds him a lot of Thomas as a freshman two years ago, which means his decision-making and shot selection have a ways to go. He admitted the shot he had blocked at Duke was a result of getting used to the speed of how quickly defenders can close out at this level.
Much like Thomas, that didn’t scare Ross away from firing his shots at will in the game against Northern Kentucky. The 6-8 wing showed off a silky-smooth outside jumper and also displayed an ability to get to the basket.
If nothing else, that’s something this team desperately needs, especially until guys like Craft, Scott, Smith and Thompson start hitting their jump shots.
“It was definitely great,” said Ross, a former blue-chip prospect out of Mississippi.
“My coaches really pushed me in practice, telling me to shoot the ball and have my feet ready. Tonight, I just got that opportunity so I had to take advantage of it.”
Now he has 19 days to prove he can make it last.
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