First Thoughts From Ohio State's 64-61 Win Over Notre Dame
By Tony Gerdeman
If you were one of the fortunate few who didn't turn off your television in disgust after Jerian Grant's coffin-sealing three-pointer with 1:57 to play, then you got to witness one of the better comebacks you're ever going to see. Following Grant's three-pointer to give Notre Dame a 58-50 lead, the Buckeyes finished the final 1:57 on a 14-3 run, with nine of those points being Lenzelle Smith's only nine points of the game.
It was quite the Shyamalanian twist, as the Buckeyes were the very worst that they were capable of being for much of the second half. Yet in those final two minutes, as the too-fantastic-to-be-believed script dictated, they were every bit as good as they are capable of being.
Ohio State won a game that they had no business winning, and in so doing they remained undefeated. More importantly, however, they were put to the test, and they came out the other end with whatever certification they were looking for. This team had its flaws pointed out in the second half for all to see, but when it mattered, those flaws were neutralized by their strengths.
There are no perfect teams, but the good teams are the ones who overcome their faults, even when those faults put them in impossible situations. That's what the Buckeyes did tonight, and it's something that they will draw on for the rest of the year.
Better Lenzelle Than Never. With about four minutes to play in the game, I had to go back and check Ohio State's game logs to see when the last time Lenzelle Smith went scoreless for an entire game. The answer? Against Washington last season, in the third game of the year. Of course, that is now nothing more than a trivial footnote given the way Smith closed this game out.
As Ohio State's leading scorer this season, the Buckeyes are rarely going to be in a position to beat a decent team with absolutely no scoring contributions from Smith. And it's not like he was having an off night where his shot just wasn't falling, he was simply not involved for the first 38 minutes of this game.
In those final two minutes, however, he showed his senior character by hitting all five of his free throw attempts, as well as a pair of field goals. For as disinterested as he looked for most of the game, he was just as focused in the final moments. The first 38 minutes were a grim reminder of what Smith is still capable of, but the final two minutes were possibly a louder statement about where he is now as a player.
The Danger Zone. Notre Dame gave a pretty good blueprint on how to beat the Buckeyes, and much of it relies on playing a solid zone defense and forcing perimeter shots. Ohio State shot just 3-18 from three-point range, and Shannon Scott and LaQuinton Ross were the only two players to score from deep.
It wasn't until later in the game when Ross became more effective against the zone by getting the ball in the middle, but in doing that, the Buckeyes were also losing their best three-point shooter. With the shooting struggles of Aaron Craft and Scott, and the non-existence of Smith for much of the game, the Buckeyes simply did not have the perimeter shooting to shoot the Irish out of the zone. This was just about the perfect storm for Ohio State, but they were able to withstand the rough seas and somehow pull out the victory.
Q Ratings Continue to Rise. I really liked the way LaQuinton Ross got the ball down low and scored in the paint. He was muscling around down low and was able to get some good looks. When his post game is going well, he can withstand having an off night shooting. He scored 16 points in this game, and hit just one three-pointer. His 11 rebounds were another indicator of a solid performance from a guy who plays power forward, but isn't really a power forward. Tonight, however, he was quite powerful.
That all being said, he had a pretty rough night on defense. However, with as many different types of players as he will match up against – be it a crafty center or a slashing wing – you can't expect him to be David Lighty.
Quick Thoughts. … I liked the way Shannon Scott pushed the ball early, and his interior passing was solid. More amazingly, however, was how often Amir Williams caught passes that normally handcuff him. … Speaking of Shannon Scott, if he is hitting his threes, Ohio State can beat anybody. … I wasn't surprised to see Marc Loving get so few minutes in this one. He was pretty scattered in his first half action, and just didn't seem to be in the flow of what Thad Matta wanted. I don't think Matta would have hesitated much to play him in a close game, but his first half performance didn't warrant much of a look in the second half. I don't think it's indicative of how the season is going to go for Loving, or the rest of the bench. … The most impressive aspect of this game is that the Buckeyes never quit. Let's face it, the game was over when Grant hit that three-pointer to make it 58-50. That's how every basketball game goes. At some point there is a basket that kills all hope. That was the one, or at least it should have been. Instead, the Buckeyes fought back, never panicked, and never jacked up shots that every team jacks up when they're trying to mount a comeback. This was how a veteran team is supposed to look down the stretch. Bad games come and go, but finishes are forever.
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