First Thoughts From Ohio State's 73-70 Win Over Arizona in the NCAA Tournament
By Tony Gerdeman
This is getting to be a habit.
Fortunately for the Buckeyes, these baskets in the final seconds are coming with the score tied, which alleviates some of the pressure. Still, it takes a special breed to step into a shot with the clock winding down and your season on the line.
Tonight, the Buckeyes found out that they have yet another player who is willing to do that.
LaQuinton Ross took the pass from Aaron Craft and never hesitated. He went up with the ball as soon as he had it in his hands. There was no question that this was what Ross wanted. The moment wasn't too big for him. In fact, it fit perfectly in his hand.
He drained the three, as he believed he would, and in one stroke he wrote yet another chapter in Buckeye basketball history.
World's Greatest Ross. It's amazing to me that towards the end of this game it was LaQuinton Ross who was being relied upon, instead of Deshaun Thomas or Aaron Craft. Has a player ever come so far in just one season?
Ross scored 14 of the Buckeyes' final 17 points and essentially made Thomas and Craft complementary players. It takes some kind of player to render those two to sidekick status, and yet that's what happened.
In fact, I thought perhaps Ross would get the ball out on the left wing as he had so many times before, and then they'd let him create. Instead, Thad Matta wisely chose to let Craft dictate the final play, and he seized on Arizona's mistaken defense.
Through 59 minutes of Tournament play, Ross has scored 41 points.
Perimeter Defense. At one point in the game, Arizona was 5-8 from three-point territory. They were knocking down open shot after open shot. Thad Matta said at the half that his team was playing selfish defense. The Wildcats would end up hitting just one of their final 10 attempts from deep, and it was because the looks weren't as open as they were in the first half.
The defense was ramped up everywhere. It led to points for the Buckeyes, and it also led to them seizing control of the game. The Wildcats took a punch from the Ohio State defense, and it took them most of the half to recover.
Not A Mere Pittance. Amir Williams' line may not appear impressive: two points, four rebounds, two blocks and a steal. But every last one of those statistics helped the Buckeyes pull out this win. When the Buckeyes were playing their best defense, Williams was in there as well, and he played some of his best basketball in a long while.
Even though the Buckeyes had a ton of success with their small lineup, if they can get this type of production out of Williams for three more games, I'm guessing Thad Matta would be happy with that.
Five Alive. The Buckeyes had five different players who contributed big points on offense. Deshaun Thomas is obvious, scoring 16 points in the first half and keeping the Buckeyes in the game. And we've already mentioned LaQuinton Ross.
However, Aaron Craft's 13 points sure came in handy, especially his free throws down the stretch. Yes, he missed the front end of a one-and-one, but he hit 7-9 for the game.
Sam Thompson also had a huge three to cut a 33-25 Arizona lead to 33-28. It gave the Buckeyes a little bit more fuel during their eventual run. He was also strong with the ball, even though he was missing some shots in close, he was aggressive, and that makes everybody around him more effective.
And we can't forget Lenzelle Smith for a quick stretch. He may have only had six points, but he also added three offensive rebounds. There's a reason that he played 35 minutes in this game, and it's because he was doing everything that Matta needed him to do. He also helped pester Arizona's starting backcourt into 11-29 shooting.
Quick Thoughts. How much would those missed layups in the first half have killed you if the Buckeyes would have lost this game? ... It bears mentioning again the impact that Lenzelle Smith and Amir Williams had in the second half. They have gotten a lot of criticism this season as fans impatiently waited for the likes of LaQuinton Ross and Shannon Scott to enter the game, but they stood up and stood out in this one. ... Arizona has some very good players, and it took a while to figure out how to defend Solomon Hill. Turns out that it helps when Arizona stops feeding him. ... Many people were worried about the Buckeyes' rebounding coming into this game, but they did a great job, and everybody contributed. Except for Deshaun Thomas, of course, who only came down with one rebound. That's not a knock on Thomas, rather it tells me how active his teammates were. ... This was the third-consecutive game that Thomas has shot 50% or better from the field. It's also the first time he's done that since November.
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