The Ohio State men’s basketball team came into Wednesday night’s matchup knowing its main challenge would come in the form of making contested shots against the ever-present 2-3 zone of Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse Orange.
Despite getting off to a quick start, the Buckeyes struggled mightily to find their shot throughout the night, continuously hampered by the length of the Syracuse lineup and the in-your-face style of attacking the zone defense that the Orange play.
The Syracuse defense relies on confounding shooters, packing the paint and drawing a low shooting percentage out of the opposing offense.
It got exactly that on Wednesday night.
Ohio State could only muster 32.6 percent shooting from the field for the game, including 27.3 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
“It’s their base defense, so that makes it a little bit unique. Coach Boeheim does a terrific job making adjustments in the zone, a terrific job making adjustments, you know we got them on a few set plays but you don’t get them on that more than once or twice,” head coach Chris Holtmann said. “To be honest with you, I felt pretty good about our zone attack, I really did. That’s not what got us beat tonight.”
That, according to Holtmann, was the Ohio State defense.
The Orange rattled off a 48.9 percent shooting percentage from the field, a 45.8 3 point shooting percentage and matched that with an 89.5 percent free throw percentage that helped to keep the Buckeyes at arm’s length.
However, senior guard C.J. Jackson felt the shooting issues Ohio State experienced wasn’t the main culprit of its defeat.
“I wouldn’t say that’s the reason we lost. The biggest thing for us is defense and that’s kind of where we lost the game,” Jackson said. “We could have gotten a couple more stops in the first and second half, and that just didn’t happen, so I guess that led to offensively guys missing a couple more shots than they usually do.”
Jackson paced the Buckeyes offense with a team-high 19 points, but nine of those came from the free throw line. Jackson was an inefficient 4-14 from the field and 2-8 from 3.
The player who should have been the focal point of Ohio State’s offensive gameplan, sophomore forward Kaleb Wesson, the Buckeyes lone true interior threat, was neutralized by the Syracuse zone and could only offer up a 1-for-8 shooting night after making an early basket from just outside of the circle.
“Kaleb’s a great kid, he’s going to look at this and say ‘Okay, how can I get better.’ I doubt he’s had any, maybe no one-for-eight nights in his career dating back to high school, I would think. I thought he did a really good job in the high post passing the ball and I thought he got the ball around the rim and the teammates got the ball to him in good spaces. He created a lot of fouls,” Holtmann said. “His finishing in traffic is something we have been working with him on and we just need to continue to work with him on it
The most effective offensive player for Ohio State proved to be sophomore forward Kyle Young, who contributed 12 points on 3-of-6 shooting from the field and 67 percent from the free throw line.
The Buckeyes came out and hit their shots early en route to a 16-9 lead in the opening minutes, while executing a plan that found the man in the middle of the zone, as well as open teammates who were able to bury their shots, much to the dismay of Boeheim.
The rest of the game, however, saw the Buckeyes go ice cold from the field and on the free throw line as well. Something Boeheim’s zone tends to do.