First Thoughts From Ohio State's 78-69 Win at Purdue
By Tony Gerdeman
The #3 Ohio State Buckeyes (14-0, 1-0) have been criticized for the ease of their non-conference schedule, and it brought into question how well they'd be prepared for the Big Ten conference schedule. Well, after a 78-69 win over Purdue (10-4, 0-1) where the Buckeyes never looked flustered, the non-conference slate seems to have prepared them just fine.
No, this is not one of Matt Painter's best Purdue teams, but any time you open the conference season in West Lafayette, a loss is a plausible outcome for the visiting team. Instead, even though their jumpers stayed back in Columbus, the Buckeyes did what it took to get the win, and they never lacked confidence while doing so.
Ross the Boss. LaQuinton Ross scored a career-high 25 points, and did it without the aid of a single three-point basket. He finished 8-17 from the field with 12 rebounds – five of which were offensive, mostly collecting his own misses. He was a load down low, and was clutch in putting Purdue at arm's length in the second half.
Thad Matta asked Ross to do more in this game, and that also included him playing quite a bit of center offensively and defensively. Defensively, he was obviously at a disadvantage against seven-footer A.J. Hammons, but Ross went at it nonetheless, and came away with a couple of swipes in the process. The key for the Buckeyes in this game was that Ross was able to take over, but he did it in the flow of the game. He wasn't forcing anything, he wasn't ignoring anybody, he was simply taking advantage of the situations being presented, and then converting.
Never Errin' Craft. You can be as objective and unbiased as you want, and you can still admit what a joy it is to watch Aaron Craft play basketball. This game was no different. The stretch where he had his own shot blocked, falling to the ground in the process, then racing down court to block a three-point attempt, then leaping in bounds to grab the rebound, and then going coast-to-coast for the layup is so patented Aaron Craft that it's a shame we can possibly find it so typical.
There is nothing typical about Craft, and I struggle to think what Ohio State basketball will be like without him. He's like your morning coffee. It settles you, it gets you straight. Can you imagine living without it? I assume there will be some caffeine withdrawal-like headaches for Matta next season, but the memories and wins over these four years should provide some aspirin for the soul.
Very Good Scott. Shannon Scott scored a career-high 18 points, and did it because he was actually looking for his shot. When he is hitting the mid-range jumper, this is a very difficult team to beat. He finished 6-11 from the field, but just 2-6 from the three-point line. However, he kept his head up and kept attacking, and he was productive throughout.
Very Guarded Lineup. Ohio State's three starting guards combined for 32 shot attempts, which I can only guess is the most they've ever combined for. Scott was 6-11, Craft was 3-8 and Lenzelle Smith was 6-13. They kept the Purdue defense unsteady the entire game, and they never hesitated to attack, even with a seven-footer waiting for them at the basket.
Of course, these three guards did combine to shoot just 2-13 from three-point territory, but their 16 rebounds, 17 assists, six steals and four turnovers more than made up for a lack of distance. The little things will always be what separates the Ohio State backcourt, but when the big things (like scoring) are also happening, then not many teams will be beating this one.
Centers of Attention. The Buckeyes got a glimpse of life against a talented center, and it had its ups and downs. A.J. Hammons scored 18 points and grabbed 16 rebounds, but he shot just 6-16 from the field. He also added four assists and five blocks, but turned it over four times as well. He was very effective on the offensive glass, especially when the Buckeyes were forced to go to their small lineup.
The Buckeyes' traditional centers – Amir Williams and Trey McDonald played just 21 minutes total in this game, as foul trouble plagued them. However, the mark of a good team is being able to turn the tables on their opposition, and the Buckeyes did just that with LaQuinton Ross getting so many minutes in the post. Thad Matta took Ohio State's lack of size and turned it into an advantage of quickness.
Quick Thoughts. … In all my life I have never seen anybody as good as Aaron Craft at stripping the ball. His timing is perfect nearly every time. You can actually see them happening a second or two before they do. … As an aside, if you want a bunch of college-aged ladies to retweet you, just tweet something glowingly about Craft. They seem to like him for some reason. … I like seeing Lenzelle Smith get into the paint more and finish with his floater. As a lefty, he is an awkward guy to guard, and if he can finish from seven or eight feet out, he will be even more effective than he already is. … On the opposite end of the spectrum is Sam Thompson. His confidence seems to be gone, even missing a dunk while waiting to get hit in the air. There is no touch on his floaters, as he aims his shot rather than just simply releasing it. His three-pointer has left him. The driving ability that he talked about at the beginning of the season never ends with any points. It's been a rough season for Thompson to this point. At this point, I'm not sure that we should expect anything to change this season. He will have some good games, but I think this is simply what he is as a junior. … Amadeo Della Valle played just three minutes in this game. Both Rob Ogden and I have wondered if his minutes would continue once Big Ten play started. If this is any indication, they will not. … For as good as the Buckeyes are, their inability to shoot from the perimeter is going to make life on the road a very interesting one this season.
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