Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
It didn’t take long for Deshaun Thomas to point out the reason behind the Ohio State men’s basketball team’s 71-45 victory against Minnesota.
The junior forward, known for his prowess on offense, credited the Buckeyes’ tenacious effort on the defensive end of the court.
“We played great defense,” Thomas said after Wednesday night’s game. “That’s what Ohio State basketball is all about.”
“Great” might be a fair way to describe the Buckeyes’ defensive performance against the Gophers.
In all, OSU held Minnesota to 29 percent shooting, as the Gophers limped to their second-lowest scoring output of the season.
The Buckeyes’ energized defense looked completely different from the lethargic one that was annihilated by Wisconsin the game before. In OSU’s 71-49 loss to the Badgers on Feb. 17, the Buckeyes were picked apart on the defensive end, looking unprepared and even disinterested at times.
“I think against Wisconsin we were just out there, we weren’t doing our job,” said sophomore guard Shannon Scott. “This game we came out with a lot of energy and enthusiasm, and we were able to feed off that.”
The phrase “defense wins championships” is an age-old idiom. Whether OSU is a championship-caliber squad has yet to be determined.
But one thing seems to have become clear in recent weeks, and it was confirmed against Minnesota: giving a great effort on defense helps OSU stop opponents, but such an effort also affects the Buckeyes’ ability to score.
Part of OSU’s need for strong defensive efforts can be attributed to its deficiencies on offense. Though the Buckeyes have Thomas, the Big Ten’s leading scorer averaging 20.1 points per game, no other player averages double figures. So when the Buckeyes are forced to execute their offense in the half court – where defenses are able to key in on Thomas – OSU sometimes produces fairly ugly results.
“They are talented, but they don’t shoot the ball well,” said former Buckeye Jerry Lucas, who was honored as one of the top 75 players in NCAA Tournament history on Wednesday. “That seems to be the thing that lacks the most in this team, they just aren’t consistent shooters.”
The Buckeyes might not have the most proficient shooters, but players like Scott and sophomore forward Sam Thompson appear to thrive in fast-paced games when they can race up and down the court.
Fast break opportunities seldom happen when a team is taking the ball out of the net after their opponent scores. But when a defense can get stops and steals, then they will likely also receive a chance to run. OSU did just that against Minnesota, forcing 21 turnovers and scoring 20 points in transition.
“I think when our defense is really rolling, it helps our offense get going,” said Scott, whose three steals proved to be a catalyst in OSU’s ability to turn defense into offense against the Gophers.
“We knew we wanted to pressure them the whole game, but we didn’t want our defense to speak for itself,” he said. “If they turned the ball over, we were going to execute off of that.”
The Buckeyes will now turn their attention to a bout with No. 4 Michigan State on Sunday at 4 p.m.
The Spartans (22-5, 11-3 Big Ten) beat OSU by three points earlier in the year and are a game behind Indiana for the top spot in the Big Ten standings. No. 18 OSU (19-7, 9-5 Big Ten) is in fifth place, trailing Indiana by three games.
The top four teams in the conference receive a bye in the Big Ten tournament, which tips off on March 14.
Despite the gravity of the upcoming game against Michigan State, Scott said the team will treat it like any other. If the Buckeyes are to pull off the upset, they will likely need to treat the Spartans with the defensive effort seen against Minnesota.