Courtesy of Sarah Cunningham, Purdue Exponent, Purdue University
The Ohio State men’s basketball team got a much needed win on Tuesday night when it traveled to Purdue and came away with a 74-64 victory against the Boilermakers (7-8, 1-2 Big Ten). The victory brings the No. 15 Buckeyes to 12-3 on the season and 2-1 in Big Ten play.
Although the Buckeyes came out with a sense of urgency in the game against Purdue and were able to withstand a late Boilermaker surge for the win, many questions still remain.
The lack of a third (and sometimes second) scorer is something that could remain for the bulk of the season, and if the team fails to remedy it, a quick exit from the NCAA tournament seems likely.
Junior forward Deshaun Thomas was brought into the program to score, and he is playing the part well as he leads the Big Ten in that category. Junior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. had an off night Tuesday but has shown at times he can be a solid second option and has shot the three well (a team-leading 44.6 percent).
The absence of former Buckeye big man Jared Sullinger in the post is evident, but sophomore center Amir Williams, who replaced senior forward Evan Ravenel in Thad Matta’s starting lineup against Chicago State over the holidays, is trying to be the answer.
Williams has a big body, but, at times, he doesn’t seem to realize it. Williams gets overpowered by guys who simply want the ball more. At 6-foot-11, he has the potential to be a force both offensively and defensively — if Williams could just find the motivation to do so. For the Buckeyes to be successful this year they will need some sort of offensive output to help take the pressure off Thomas.
That brings us to the point guard situation.
Both junior guard Aaron Craft and sophomore guard Shannon Scott have shown improvement from last year’s Final Four team, and it is hard to keep either one of them off the court because of their defensive prowess and athleticism.
Craft is the best perimeter defender in college basketball, and he and Scott have been doing an admirable job distributing the ball to their teammates in places where they can score. Matta has shown that he loves to play both of them at the same time, and with that continuing to be the case, one of a few things needs to happen.
One option is playing Thomas in the post and having Craft, Scott, Smith Jr., and sophomore forward Sam Thompson be on the court with him.
This lineup would be able to get up and down the court quickly and wear teams down. Another option is to keep Craft at point guard and attempt to improve Scott’s, Thompson’s, and sophomore forward LaQuinton Ross’ outside shooting. Ross showed some much needed intensity against Purdue and took the ball to the basket where he was able to finish. If this continues, and he is able to become the offensive threat the Buckeyes have been waiting for, the chances this team has to go deep into March certainly increase.
The bottom line is this: For OSU to win games, Thomas must be scoring, the entire team must be defending with the intensity it showed at Purdue, and some sort of an inside presence must step forward. Matta needs to make some big decisions soon so this team can find its identity before it experiences a quick exit from the NCAA tournament.
OSU is set to play No. 2 Michigan at 1:30 p.m. Sunday.