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Last updated: 12/15/2013 0:10 AM
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Men's Basketball
First Thoughts from Ohio State's 79-62 Win Over North Dakota State
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — It was another solid defensive effort for the Buckeyes on Saturday night, as they skillfully moved their feet to a 79-62 victory over North Dakota State. Ohio State held the Bison to 37% shooting in the first half, which provided enough cushion for the Buckeyes to cruise the rest of the way.

The perimeter defense was outstanding, as NDSU's jumper was struggling all night long. They shot just 5-17 (29.4%) from three-point territory, and nobody on their team shot better than 40% from long range. The Buckeyes only forced seven turnovers, but the fact that there were hands in every shooter's face kept the Bison's scoring down.

In a 40-minute game, there are only a handful of open looks for an Ohio State opponent, and that was the case in this one as well. The Buckeye starting guards are so harassingly active, and then when one goes to the bench, he is replaced by Sam Thompson, who might just be the best athlete in the Big Ten.

While LaQuinton Ross can come and go as a defender, the stifling that the Buckeye guards are able to do to the opposition completely disrupts a halfcourt offense. They don't even allow teams to get going, which means they can't take advantage of any slight edge that they may have at the four or five, and it all starts in the backcourt. It's quite a weapon for the Buckeyes.

Getting Pushy. I thought North Dakota State came into this game pretty confident, and started the game in a rather physical manner. They looked like they were playing Big Ten basketball. Amir Williams was thrown around a bit in the paint, and he wasn't able to maintain position. There was pushing and grabbing on drives, and it was impossible to run through the lane without finding contact.

The Buckeyes responded well eventually, and everybody stayed involved. For as questionable a non-conference schedule as Ohio State has, I'm sure Thad Matta was pleased with the bulk of his team's performance. Things got a bit sloppy late, but that's just an understood universal truth of blowout basketball. It's rare when it doesn't happen.

Thanks For The Assists. It only took a little over three seasons, but Aaron Craft is now Ohio State's all-time leader in assists, with 581. Given his impact on the Ohio State program, it's good to see him compiling school records, because there needs to be more on his mantle than just floor burns.

Aaron Craft is the perfect representative for the Ohio State University, and it's hard to imagine anybody being better at it than he is. This is a good day for Craft, but it's a great day for Ohio State. Lost in the effort, the guttiness, the falls to the floor, is the fact that Aaron Craft is one hell of a basketball player. Now the record books will show it.

Aaron Craft
Photo by Jim Davidson
Aaron Craft

Greatest Jinx Ever? Don't look now, but the Buckeyes are apparently a very good three-point shooting team at the moment. While the fear was that they would be too streaky, currently that streak is a good one. OSU shot 10-20 from three in this game, and seven different Buckeyes attempted a three-pointer.

The fact that the Buckeyes play nine players and the only two who can't shoot threes are their centers can be an amazing weapon come March. It's also not too bad a weapon in December. There are no perimeter players who can be left open, including Craft. Though if he is left open, Craft is more likely to do something else with the ball than shoot it.

That doesn't mean that I expect it to last. When you break it down, this is still a team with just one consistent shooter (Ross), and even that is arguable. Lenzelle Smith has been fantastic to this point, but I think everyone is still holding their breath that it will last. Since starting the season 3-3 from three-point range, Shannon Scott has gone 5-23. That's not good. Looking for the third most-consistent shooter, and I think it might be Marc Loving. When your freshman backup power forward is your third most-consistent shooter, then you're not yet a consistent shooting team.

Speaking Of Lenzelle Smith. Man, Smith has been good this season. The most impressive aspect for me is that despite his fantastic shooting this season – and again in this game, he didn't force his shot. Yes, he took a three with a hand in his face (which he made), but that was after making several other shots.

And you know what, so what if he's overly aggressive right now – which he's not. He's earned that right. He's one of the team's two best scorers, and his 18 points in this game were well-earned. He scored from all over the court, was busy on the boards (eight rebounds), and handed out four assists.

Driving Dangerously. I'm beginning to think that LaQuinton Ross would be better served – or at least the team would be – if he drove to the rim less and simply became a jump shooter for the time being. Right now when he drives the ball a travel, strip or charge are more likely to happen than a basket. Even getting a shot up is an accomplishment.

Obviously, Ross doesn't want to just be a jump shooter, but until he can finish, he needs to stop before he gets to the paint. If that means his drive from the wing ends up being a 16-foot bank, then that's what needs to happen. Besides, a mid-range game from a power forward is more valuable to a basketball team than an ability to drive.

Quick Thoughts. … This was not one of Amir Williams's better games, which has to be disappointing considering North Dakota State's rough style of play. Everyone has had a wait-and-see approach when it comes to Williams and his solid performances, but getting just four points from him in this game might be an indication of what's to come in Big Ten play. The nine rebounds were certainly a positive, however. … While we're talking about Ohio State centers, I really like Trey McDonald's coordination and body control. He's strong, he's athletic, and he can actually put the ball on the court and get a shot up. … I saved the part where I rave about Marc Loving for this portion, so I would spend less time on him. But how about his drive into the lane where he finished with his left hand? Or his two three-pointers from the wing without concern for the shot clock? He is already playing like a veteran who has had a successful career.

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