Luther Muhammad tied his career high with four three-pointers made in Sunday’s win over No. 7 Maryland. He scored a season-high 22 points for the Buckeyes, hitting clutch threes and making all eight of his free throw attempts, including all six in the final two minutes when they mattered most.
This has been a solid couple of weeks for Muhammad, who has scored at least nine points in four of his last five games, after doing it just once in the previous 12 games.
Over those last five games, Muhammad is 11-of-22 from three, and that’s with a 1-of-4 outing in the loss at Iowa last Thursday.
Sunday against the Terps, however, he was locked in. He hit three of his four three-pointers in the first half, with the first two giving the Buckeyes a lead. His final three of the game pushed the Ohio State lead from 10 points to 13 points and gave OSU some necessary breathing room to withstand the impending Maryland run.
After the game, Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann attributed Muhammad’s success to confidence and opportunity.
“He hit big threes. Big threes. He had great confidence,” Holtmann said. “They went under a lot of those ball screens at times and he was able to raise up and shoot it behind it, which was huge. I just think he’s playing with a lot of confidence.”
The ball hasn’t always been this kind to Muhammad, who went through a 6-for-34 stretch in the 10 games from the win over Kentucky to the win at Michigan this season.
Through it all, Holtmann worked to keep Muhammad’s head up.
“I told him – we had lunch a couple of weeks ago – and I remember saying to him, ‘Hey, there’s going to be a game where you’re going to make a few key threes,’” he said.
“And at this point, you guys kept bringing stats, ‘What are you gonna do with Luther, he’s 1-for-30 in his last four games.’ It was after a frustrating game where I don’t think he scored maybe at all, and I just said, ‘Hey, you’re going to have a game if you keep working and you stick with the process, you’re going to have a game where you’re the difference and your shot-making is the difference. It’s a credit to that kid that he just has stuck with the process.”
After the game, Muhammad echoed his coach. He also pointed to the work he’s put in on his shot, as well as crediting every one around him for his offensive performance.
“Most definitely. Just staying with it. Continuing to stay in the gym and work hard,” Muhammad said. “A great team and great coaching staff encourage me, and they’ve got faith in me.”
Muhammad had a couple of games like this last year, scoring 20 or more points twice in a four-game stretch in late January and early February. From mid-February on, however, he closed the season making just six of his last 32 three-point attempts. He scored just 35 points total in those final 12 games.
Obviously, he will be looking to avoid a similar ending to this season. Holtmann doesn’t foresee that kind of struggle happening again. Nor does he think Muhammad’s game can be tied to just how he’s shooting. The team needs more from him than just that.
“His game can’t be defined by that,” Holtmann said. “It never has been defined by that. He’s got to be able to compete defensively. If he stops competing defensively and he stops rebounding, then we’ll play somebody else. But he’s been committed to that. He’s got to keep working. He’s got to keep a good attitude.
“I’m really happy for a kid like that who has stayed with it. He didn’t have these kinds of moments for us late last year, but part of it was we weren’t playing him as much. But he didn’t respond with these kinds of moments like he’s responded this year as a sophomore.”