First Thoughts From Ohio State's 76-69 Win at Iowa
By Tony Gerdeman
It doesn't seem all that long ago that the Buckeyes were having the last few shovels of dirt tossed on them, disappearing their last few visions of light and having the soil of NIT-dom tamped down on top of their cooling corpses.
But then the win over Wisconsin came. Like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, the Buckeyes punched their way out of the coffin, reached through the dirt to fresh air and pulled themselves up to grass level.
Then they went to Iowa and did it all over again. Even when Ohio State trailed at the half by two points, it still felt like they were maintaining some type of control in this game. Neither panic nor apathy were ever present in this game, and the end result was no coincidence.
This team is playing with the confidence that it had back when it was a top five team. When they shoot the ball, they expect it to go in. When they drive, they expect to get to the basket. It's a much smoother-running machine in February than it was in January.
Now the Buckeyes get a bit of a break in the toughness of their schedule, as Purdue comes to town in four days for a 6:00 pm tip. Will there be a let down considering Michigan comes to town just three days later? Momentum is a gigantic thing, and the Buckeyes need to keep it from getting into the wrong hands.
If they can handle business against Purdue, and look good doing it, then this team might be over the hump. They're too far out to contend for a regular season championship, but they can sure have a say in who wins it.
Thad Matters. There's a reason that Thad Matta came out of the womb winning 20 games per season, and it's because his flawed teams are just as well coached as his great teams.
Matta is the one constant. We've seen him win with Jim O'Brien's roster and we've seen him win with his own roster. No, winning 20 games isn't as difficult as it used to be, but that doesn't mean it's easy to do every single year. Everybody has down years, and the Buckeyes are having one now. The difference is that when Thad Matta's teams have a down year, they're still a pain to play against.
It's just too bad he didn't listen to me about bringing Shannon Scott off the bench earlier.
Boo Goes the Dynamite. Here's a tip for future opposing fanbases: don't boo Aaron Craft. It only makes him angry, and you won't like him when he's angry.
Craft played 39 minutes, scoring 17 points and handing out six assists while plucking six steals. A Big Ten player hasn't had those numbers since Michigan State's Charlie Bell in 2001.
Heck, Craft even hit a three-pointer in transition. At that point, you were probably questioning reality and asking your loved ones if you had a fever.
This was one of Aaron Craft's better games this season at either end of the court. His confidence over these last two games is exactly where you need it to be in your team leader.
Making It Count. This game was never going to be easy to win without some type of contribution from Lenzelle Smith, and when he went scoreless in the first half on 0-4 shooting it was no surprise that the Buckeyes trailed at the half.
Smith busted out of his slump, however, as he scored quickly to open the second half. He then added a pair of crucial three-pointers, as well four free throws. He scored all 12 of his points in the second half and gave the Buckeyes the necessary boost at just the right time.
Iowa could never muster a full comeback in the second half, and Smith was part of that reason why.
Sixth Man Shannon. Aside from a few questionable passes and decisions, I like what Shannon Scott has done these last two games. He is making the most of his time, which is something that he wasn't doing before.
He only played 21 minutes tonight, but scored 11 points on 3-4 shooting, while also picking up a pair of steals. Last year he brought a spark to the team when he came off the bench, and a spark is exactly what this team has been needing.
As long as Scott continues to hit those pull-up jumpers, then he'll be a productive player in this offense.
Look at the Bright Side. Amir Williams and Trey McDonald combined for just one rebound in 34 minutes tonight, and the Buckeyes were extremely fortunate to get away with it.
Iowa finished with 15 offensive rebounds while the Buckeyes managed just 21 defensive rebounds. The Hawkeyes' size is always going to bother this team, but if Amedeo Della Valle can grab two rebounds in 12 minutes, surely the Ohio State centers can grab more than just one in 34 minutes.
That being said, Williams was very good on offense down the stretch, especially when he hit a clutch pair of free throws. There are some good things to like about Williams, but he never shows you the good without also reminding you of the bad.
Still, I wonder if Thad Matta would take the 12 points on 5-6 shooting and zero rebounds that Williams had in this one, or if he'd rather have a few points and 12 rebounds instead.
Right now, scoring is hard for this team, so I'm guessing Matta would side with the sure points and let the rebounds bounce where they may.
Quick Thoughts. ... The most unbelievable part of this game for me was when the Buckeyes scored like three straight baskets on the fast break. Who was that team, and what had they done with the Buckeyes who can barely complete a pass on the run? ... Marc Loving needs to find a way around the freshman wall, because right now he's almost a liability on the court. His shot isn't falling, and his drive isn't any better. It's pretty obvious that Thad Matta is trying to get him to play through it and hopefully play out of it, but right now the product he is putting out is rough. ... It was good to see some of LaQuinton Ross's drives actually result in points. You know how some shooters can go on hot shooting streaks? Maybe he can go on a hot driving streak, much like he did late last season. ... Did you know that the Buckeyes could shoot 7-16 (43.8%) from three-point range for a game and 80% from the line in the second half? Me neither.
First Thoughts After the first meeting with Iowa
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