Last season Evan Turner led the Ohio State men’s basketball team in nearly every offensive category on his way to being Associated Press Player of the Year. Of all the questions his departure presented, the greatest might be who will be able to create open shots off the dribble.
The three returning starters trying to provide the answer — Jon Diebler, William Buford and David Lighty — averaged just 16.3 points per game inside the 3-point arc last season. Turner almost matched that number himself with 14 points a game from that area.
Despite the apparent deficiencies, the team does not seem concerned.
“My strength is penetration, and Will’s is as well,” Lighty said. “So I think our offense is set up for us to penetrate.”
Lighty and Buford proved that they could drive the ball last year but rarely needed to because of Turner’s prowess, Diebler said. However, the senior guard emphasized the team’s need to improve.
“This year, I think us elevating our game to the next level and being able to add another dimension to our game” is important, Diebler said. “It makes us three, as a group, harder to guard.”
Though the guards have been focusing on improving their ability to drive to the basket, don’t expect the team to shoot fewer threes. The Buckeyes scored 30 percent of their points from behind the arc last season, with the three returning guards connecting on 209 3-point shots.
“Evan didn’t really shoot that many threes,” Lighty said. “He created a lot, (but) I think it will probably be about the same this year.”
Different players will have to create opportunities by getting to the basket off the dribble.
“We’ve all been working on getting to the paint and finishing through contact,” Buford said.
Lighty said he expects some of the freshmen to fill the gap Turner left behind.
Freshman Jordan Sibert is “real athletic, real crafty with the ball,” Lighty said. “He can get inside the paint and make things happen.”
Another option could be freshman point guard Aaron Craft, who coach Thad Matta said has been impressive during practices.
“Aaron’s the type of kid that anything you ask him to do he’s going to do it and he’s going to do it the way you want him to do it,” Matta said.
Matta said he expects the upperclassmen to push the freshmen.
“You’ve got four returning starters,” he said. “That should be great motivation for the young guys to say, ‘Hey, if I want to get on the court, I have to be really good to knock one of those guys off.'”
With the addition of talented freshmen alongside returning players with new roles, losing Turner’s ability to penetrate might not be a problem.
“I think with the team that we have coming back,” Lighty said, “it’s just going to be a lot of mini Evan Turners out there.”