First Thoughts

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Last updated: 01/23/2014 10:59 PM
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Men's Basketball
First Thoughts From Ohio State's 62-55 Win Over Illinois
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — It may have taken a couple of weeks, but the Buckeyes finally got their third Big Ten win of the season thanks to their victory over the Fighting Illini.

The talk around the basketball team for the last week or so was whether or not Thad Matta would make a change in his starting lineup coming into this game. While that talk may have been AROUND the team, it never actually made it TO the team.

In fact, Matta was so defiant and steadfast about his starting lineup that each of his starters played at least 30 minutes in this game. I'm not sure if that has happened at other times this season, but I'm sure that it can't be many. It wasn't always pretty tonight, but the veterans stayed calm and finally hit some shots that they haven't been hitting much of late.

While most have been calling for a lineup change, Matta has decided to stick with his current five, likely in hopes that when they finally do start playing better, they'll be a much more cohesive group having been through such trials.

This may have just been a win over an Illinois team that is in as deep of a funk as the Buckeyes are, but more than that, it's a win and it stops the losing. A dirty rag may just be a dirty rag, but if you've got a gaping wound, you'll use it to stop the bleeding.

Thanks for the Complement. I was on a radio show on Wednesday and I explained that one of the problems I see with the Buckeyes is that they are a team full of complementary players with nobody to complement. Last year they had Deshaun Thomas. This year they most definitely do not.

Tonight, however, they played off of each other well. They were 8-19 from three-point range, which was a much-needed boost in getting this win. When Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott are able to drive and dish to shooters who are actually going to make their three-point attempts, this team is much more difficult to beat. The problem is that there's no telling when that team will either show up or stay home.

On the Down Low. It was good to see LaQuinton Ross be effective in the paint again, as it had been a while since we've seen him take advantage of his size and basket awareness. Ohio State needs scorers, and they need to continue to look for Ross down low because every shot that comes from six feet is a shot that doesn't have to come from 20 feet.

That also means that Ross has to get position, maintain it, and then not turn the ball over. He tuned the ball over just once tonight, and scored 18 points, so he was pretty aggressive and yet remained safe with the ball. If he can be this efficient moving forward, the Buckeyes can get back to resembling the team that they used to be. The problem with this, however, is that Ross struggles against athletic defenders, and his moves are pretty well scouted by now, so he's not always going to be as effective as Buckeye fans would hope.

Slogging Through. The Buckeyes went to the half down by one, scoring just 24 points in the first half. There were times when they appeared to be on the brink of panic, but they eventually settled down and regained some of that confidence that has been missing during this losing streak. The problem with the Buckeyes not having confidence is that their opponents can see it, which then gives them confidence.

Illinois could have very easily built on their first half and stretched out a bit of a lead, and who knows how big that lead would have needed to get for the Buckeyes to fold again. Instead, Ohio State fought back and took control, or at least as much control as this game was willing to allow. Yes, it was just Illinois, but rest assured the Buckeyes are more confident right now than they were 24 hours ago.

Williams Active Throughout. Like the game itself, the play of Amir Williams wasn't always pretty, but he was right in the mix for most of his minutes on the court. He played 31 minutes, scored seven points, grabbed nine rebounds and blocked three shots. It was as effective as he has been in quite some time. He was far from perfect, but right now nobody is asking for perfect.

Quick Thoughts. … There was a stretch in the second half that was entirely controlled by Aaron Craft, and it led to the Buckeyes regaining momentum. It's amazing how much more effective his overall game can become when his teammates are scoring. The pressure on him becomes lessened and he is free to do everything else that makes him the most annoying player in the nation to every school in the nation but one. … Perhaps the best sign for the Buckeyes is that they were able to capitalize on the zone defense when Illinois would go to it. The Illini could only stay in zone for a few possessions at a time because shots were actually falling. … Lenzelle Smith had a pretty nice game, scoring 16 points, but there's just no telling what the Buckeyes are going to get from him game to game. Yet he needs to be in the lineup because he is one of the few players on this team actually capable of scoring 16 points.

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