Buckeye Blowouts

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Last updated: 12/17/2012 1:21 PM

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Men's Basketball
Monday Morning Hangover: Making Sense of Buckeye Blowouts
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — With the help of an emerging Evan Ravenel, and a much more active Shannon Scott, the Ohio State Buckeyes have quietly rattled off four straight blowouts since their 73-68 loss at Duke at the end of November.

The Buckeyes played well enough in the first half that they should have won that game down in Durham, but the Cameron Crazies came to life during Duke’s second half surge, and a lack of identity on offense really crippled Thad Matta’s team in the final minutes of the game.

It was a good opportunity for Matta’s team – which features a number of sophomore with very little game experience – to learn a little bit about itself. Mainly that they need to find other scoring options outside of Deshaun Thomas.

Deshaun Thomas
Photo by Jim Davidson

‘The Tank’ is averaging more than 20 points per game this season, while no one else on the team is averaging more than 11. That’s perfectly fine with Matta, who would much rather see different guys step up to help Deshaun carry the load than force one player to take on that responsibility every time they take the court.

“We need Deshaun to score, but the best teams I’ve ever coached have had multiple scorers,” Matta emphasized last week.

“That’s the way we have to be, to be honest. Having different guys our there that can knock down shots is going to be advantageous for us.”

Which takes us back to these last four games, all of which Ohio State has won handedly by an average of nearly 30 points per contest. The Buckeyes are shooting 48 percent from the floor during that stretch, while averaging nearly 84 points a night.

They are all numbers that look great on paper, especially for a team with serious concerns on the offensive end coming out of that Duke game, but what can we really know about this team based on the last four games?

The closest anyone played them was UNC Asheville, which came away with an 18-point loss at Value City Arena, only because Keith Hornsby was channeling his inner Brandon Paul against the Buckeyes.

Hornsby’s teammates were a combined 0-12 behind the arc, and the Buckeyes scored at will against the Bulldogs in transition. If Matta hadn’t called off the dogs in the second half, it would have been another 35-point victory, with or without Hornsby.

So what’s the point?

Point? What point? There often is no point. In this case, however, there actually might be a point worth making in all this rambling. We may not know more about the Buckeyes after these last four games, but I’m guessing they know more about themselves.

Deshaun Thomas has scored 14 or more points in every single game this year – which is good news for the Buckeyes. He led the team in scoring twice in the last four games, but that means someone else carried the load in two of those games.

LaQuinton Ross
Photo by Jim Davidson
LaQuinton Ross

Against Northern Kentucky, that someone else was sophomore LaQuinton Ross. Matta seemingly forgot about him down the stretch in that Duke game, but he came off the bench three nights later to lead Ohio State with a career-high 22 points and eight rebounds in 29 minutes.

Over his last four games, Ross is averaging 15 points and seven rebounds a game. He seemed to regress a little bit in the win over UNC Asheville, but eventually he’s going to get his outside shot going again.

He’s only made one of his last 11 from long range, but his shot is too smooth and too pure for him to keep shooting that way, so long as he is listening to his coaches and getting his feet and body ready to shoot.

We don’t know exactly what Ross will look like the next time they take the floor for a big game, which happens to be this Saturday against Kansas. He should be a better version of himself than the one we saw down at Duke, but it’s not just Ross. Shannon Scott, Sam Thompson and Evan Ravenel are all playing their best basketball in the month of December.

Shannon Scott
Photo by Jim Davidson
Shannon Scott

Thompson had a career-scoring night against UNC Asheville and Scott is averaging nearly seven assists and three steals over his last six games. He had nine and six against the Bulldogs on Saturday and he seems to have found some confidence in his outside shot, making four of his last six.

That might not seem like a big deal, but this is a kid who went 1-for-18 from behind the arc last season. Not because he can’t shoot, but simply because he lacked the confidence and understanding of when and how to shoot the basketball.

Does it Really Mean Anything, Though?

Maybe not. Maybe Ohio State will come out and look flat again on Saturday as they face another top 10 team early in the year. Jeff Withey isn’t going to allow Thompson to throw down any of his windmill dunks against the Jayhawks and shots are going to be much more tightly contested than they have been the last four outings.

It’s going to be a real test of where this basketball team is at heading into Big Ten Conference play, which starts just after the new year with a tune-up against Nebraska on the second. That’s followed by a huge trip to Illinois, where former OSU assistant John Groce has the Illini ranked No. 10 in the country.

In reality, we still don’t know what kind of season this team can and will have. Is it possible they never figure it out, limping through a treacherous conference schedule without showing much sign of improvement? Of course it is, but Matta’s history would suggest otherwise.

This team is still learning how to play together, and THAT is what these last four games have been about. Seeing Deshaun Thomas make the extra pass to wide open Aaron Craft in the corner, and then watching Craft’s shot sink through the bottom of the net. That’s why Thad Matta has these games on the schedule.

It may not have been against Duke, but if it’s not happening against Long Beach State, it’s not going to suddenly be there against Kansas.

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