First Thoughts From Ohio State's 59-58 Win at Wisconsin
By Tony Gerdeman
In terms of "must wins", there was no bigger must win for the Buckeyes than this game, which is why many (okay, me) had already written Ohio State off. Even though the Badgers were struggling, I didn't think the Buckeyes would be able to collect themselves well enough to win in Madison.
Instead, I was quite wrong and Ohio State did what they needed to, and perhaps saved their season in the process. How did they do it? They scored via a more aggressive offense, which allowed better quality shots. More important than that, however, is that they got back to the defense that they had become known for.
Wisconsin's three starting guards combined for one assist and 8-23 shooting. Starting point guard Traevon Jackson was held in check, scoring just seven points on 2-9 shooting, and was also stifled on the game's final possession by Aaron Craft.
The post defense isn't where Ohio State needs it to be right now, but the simple fact that they got the perimeter defense back up and running was huge to their success in this one.
The key moving forward will be to build on this win and use the momentum that was just gained. That will be tough to do with a game at Iowa coming in just three days, but this stretch was never going to be an easy one, and they've already guaranteed themselves a split, which should be enough to keep some type of good vibe going.
A New Starting Five. We have been wondering when and if a new starting lineup would happen, and on Saturday Thad Matta finally pulled the trigger, bringing Shannon Scott off the bench in favor of Sam Thompson.
Given that the Buckeyes won the game, the decision appears to have worked. It was interesting to see Scott's response to the "demotion", which ended up with him taking the most shots (10) on the team. The fact that he only made four of his shots is secondary to me. As long as he can remain aggressive, and hit at least 40% of his shots, then that's the type of performance that the Buckeyes can use off of the bench.
It was also good to see Scott and Craft in the game together at the end. After their lineup had allowed Wisconsin to get a seven-point lead, both point guards hit crucial threes to recapture momentum, and eventually the game.
While getting benched can fracture a player, Scott's performance -- while far from perfect -- should still be able to convince him that he can have a sizable impact on this team as the sixth man.
Good Looking Looks. The Buckeyes got some pretty good looks from inside the three-point line. Even though they missed quite a few of them, they still need to continue shooting them.
Early in the game Sam Thompson missed a jumper from the top, and on the next possession he had an equally open shot and passed it up. Confidence is such a big thing for this team that one missed shot is hard to forget, and it ends up affecting them for a few minutes at a time.
I'd rather see a confident team get up a bunch of shots and shoot 40% from the field than a tentative team get up a fraction of the shots, and still only manage to hit around 45% from the field. A team can't score unless they shoot, and the Buckeyes have to stop allowing self-doubt to be their biggest obstacle.
ADV TCB. Amadeo Della Valle has been a fun player to watch of late, and probably one of the few bright spots during this dark stretch. For a team that is often criticized for its lack of emotion or desire, that is never a charge aimed at Della Valle.
He opened this game very well, giving the Buckeyes some necessary energy and aggression off of the bench. He has amazingly turned into one of the team's best finishers on the drive, and is one of the few Buckeyes who can catch a fastbreak pass on the wing and hit a quick three.
He still has issues recognizing his limitations. In fact, I'm not sure he believes he has any. Maybe that's a good thing, but he still has to be able to reel himself in when it comes to the rest of the team. The good news for the Buckeyes is that he's no longer just a catch-and-shoot player, and he hasn't been for most of this season.
The question now becomes whether he might push for a spot in the starting lineup. Considering what he gives the team off of the bench, however, it would be hard to take that jolt of energy away.
Quick Thoughts. ... Whatever Thad Matta said to his team since their last game, and whatever the team said to themselves, worked pretty well. They were aggressive throughout, and always looked to be confident in what they were doing. They took it to the Badgers, and when Wisconsin fought back, the Buckeyes never crumpled. The fight might have taken a bit long to arrive, but it sure seems like it's here now. ... Shannon Scott is still hit-and-miss on any given possession, but I do think he'll be a much more consistent player next year when he is the lone point guard on the court. ... What would Ohio State's record be if they had played with this effort, energy and execution over the last month? ... Without doing any research whatsoever, I am guessing that Thad Matta has never had nine players record at least 14 minutes of playing time on the road against a ranked Big Ten opponent. This was not like him. He was spinning plates like a mad man, and it worked. Trey McDonald was very good in his 17 minutes. He and Amir Williams were a solid combination at center, combining for 15 points and seven rebounds. ... I also liked the distribution of shots. Eight players took at least three shots, and the only one who didn't was Marc Loving. If the offense is that unpredictable for a defense, that is always going to be a good thing. ... Speaking of Marc Loving, it might just be the freshman wall, but his shot needs to start finding the bottom of the net again. No points and no rebounds from the freshman is not the contribution that is going to earn him more minutes. I have confidence in his abilities for sure, but given his struggles, he needs to figure out what he does best and get back to doing that for now. ... Overall, this was a very good win for Ohio State even with Wisconsin's struggles. Any time you can win on the road in the Big Ten you need to do it, and the Buckeyes did it.
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