Even Michael Jordan needed a Scottie Pippen. A star player can’t carry the team all on his own.
As often as individual brilliance dazzles in the sport of basketball — NBA Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain scored 67 or more points in losses four times in his career — a balanced attack will more often than not win the day.
For the Ohio State men’s basketball team, this presents a problem.
Despite leading the Buckeyes in scoring this season with 14.3 points per game, junior forward LaQuinton Ross can’t do it all alone.
Since losing Deshaun Thomas to the NBA Draft at the end of last season, the No. 22-ranked Buckeyes (22-6, 9-6, fourth in the Big Ten) have relied heavily on Ross to carry the load.
Emerging as the team’s top scoring threat, Ross has encountered comparisons to Thomas throughout the season, something he said isn’t exactly how he wants it.
“I try not to look at it that way. I try to be myself,” Ross said Wednesday. “If other people are throwing out the comparison, that’s fine, I don’t get into that a lot. I try to do what I can at Ohio State and eventually, like Deshaun left his legacy, I try to do the same and do mine.”
So far in 2013-14, Ross has six games in which he scored 20 or more points. His teammates have only managed one between all of them.
Ross said he doesn’t feel the added pressure of scoring in tight situations, especially late in games.
“I came into Ohio State as a scorer. I’ve been labeled as that for a long time now so in those situations in games, that’s something that’s almost a talent for me so I don’t feel pressure from it,” Ross said. “I think sometimes during those moments in the games my teammates look for me. I’ve just got to step up to the talent.”
Since conference play began, Ross has seen his number called more and more often, in particular when the game is on the line.
In the Buckeyes’ six conference losses this season, Ross has shot an average of 24.4 percent of the field goals attempted by OSU as a team, as compared to 19 percent of the total shots taken during wins.
But in recent games, Ross has had some of the pressure alleviated with the help of a fellow junior forward.
After only managing double digits in two of OSU’s first 13 Big Ten games, Sam Thompson has averaged 15 points in the last two, including a 19 point performance against Minnesota.
Thompson said he can step up as the second go-to scorer for the Buckeyes, as long as he keeps playing with intensity.
“I just have to continue to be aggressive, continue to make plays,” Thompson said. “Do so within the flow of the offense and do so within the flow of the team, but continue to make plays and I feel like that’s when we’re at our best.”
Ross added that having Thompson scoring at a high rate will help him while the team aims for an NCAA Tournament run.
“It definitely makes my job a lot easier,” Ross said. “Anytime anybody is pitching in and we’re getting that extra scoring — not even that extra scoring, just people making plays and being aggressive — I think that helps our team out a lot. I think we’re a way better team when everybody is being aggressive and trying their hardest on the offensive end and when we’re playing offense like we play defense.”
Thompson has had more of a chance to shine since coach Thad Matta made the decision to put him in the starting lineup in lieu of junior guard Shannon Scott.
Matta said Thompson has the ability to be the team’s second scorer, and that will help the team immensely.
“It definitely gives us another guy out there that you have to be concerned about in terms of putting the ball in the basket. I think it opens things up in terms of driving opportunities, drive and kicks, even posting the basketball,” Matta said Wednesday. “I think Sam, when he’s playing like that, puts pressure on the defense to rotate more and those are things that all coaches look for. The more, the better.”
Matta also said Thompson is on an upward trend as a player, provided he can continue to do what he does best.
“The biggest thing he’s got to do is continue to play at this level,” Matta said. “(I’m) not saying getting 20 points or anything like that, but just bring what he has to the table. And it’s not the dunks … But it’s all the other things. Finishing around the basket, making his free throws, knocking down some threes. Those are the things that can complete kind of who he is. Assist-to-turnover ratio and those types of things.”
OSU is set to travel to State College, Pa., to take on Penn State (13-14, 4-10) Thursday at 7 p.m.
Thompson will be looking to continue his trend as the team’s second scorer against a team that held him to one point Jan. 29 in a 71-70 Buckeye loss in overtime.