CHICAGO — The Ohio State men’s basketball team was struggling through a rough first half in the Big Ten Tournament against Minnesota as it opened the game shooting 1-of-12 from long range.
Enter the Yin-and-Yang combo of senior guard Shannon Scott and freshman D’Angelo Russell.
The pair combined for 44 points Thursday night as the Buckeyes defeated the Golden Gophers, 79-73, in Chicago to advance to the tournament quarterfinals.
Scott scored 21 points, setting a new career-high, in the win and said he was aggressive from the start of the game.
“I just looked for my shot a little earlier in the game. I think a lot of times I settle and pass the ball around the perimeter,” he said. “I think I looked at the rim a lot more and when I felt I was open I attacked from there.”
Scott finished 7-of-12 shooting from the field and added a team-high six assists to go along with five rebounds.
He said a motivating factor for his performance, and the team’s performance as a whole, was a 72-48 drubbing at home on Sunday against Wisconsin.
“Our biggest thing was after our senior night loss, just to play our best basketball now. We went out at the (Schottenstein Center) not playing how we wanted to play,” Scott said. “So we had to move on past it and get going again.”
Freshman forward Jae’Sean Tate, who scored just four points in his first college tournament game, said looking to seniors like Scott is important as March gets in full swing.
“We definitely have to look close to them, because they have been there before,” Tate said. “They know the atmosphere, and being freshmen, they may know what we’re feeling.”
OSU coach Thad Matta said after the game that he was proud of the way his team responded coming off of a tough loss.
“We had a couple great practices leading into this,” Matta said. “I talked about it before the game tonight, I think, in terms of the way we came out. I was excited to see that.”
Russell who had five turnovers against Wisconsin on Sunday, started Thursday’s game 0-of-6 from long range with eight points in the first half. He said it was Matta who woke him up in the second half.
“Coach told me, ‘It’s time,’ and I started making shots for some reason,” Russell said. “I don’t know what it was. They started calling plays for me and putting me in positions to score and capitalize and create for others, and that’s what I did.”
Russell’s biggest play of the game came with 1:41 on the clock when the Louisville, Ky., native stepped into a 3-point shot with the shot clock winding down and buried it to extend the OSU lead to seven and ultimately out of reach for Minnesota.
Scott said even though he has only played with Russell for one season, he has come to expect those kinds of plays from the freshman.
“That’s what he does … The whole year he has made some spectacular plays for us. He is uncanny scoring the ball,” Scott said. “When he has the ball in his hands, we know there is a good chance it is going in.”
The game marked Russell’s first post-season college game and now that it is out of the way, he said he is looking forward to Friday’s matchup with Michigan State.
“It’s win or go home, anything can happen,” he said. “Whoever our opponent is, we are just going to treat it like another game and trust the system.”
The Buckeyes dropped their only matchup with the Spartans this season on Feb. 14 in East Lansing, Mich., 59-56, something Russell said he has not forgotten.
“They only beat us by a buzzer beater,” Russell said. “I give a lot of credit to them. They played the gaps well, they were physical on me. They capitalized when we made mistakes.”
The Buckeyes and Spartans are set to tip about 25 minutes after the Maryland vs. Indiana matchup on Friday night.