Men's basketball | OSU Insider: Buckeyes hang tough in Big Ten
Sam Thompson, left, of Ohio State totaled 24 points in his past two games, shooting 9 of 11 from the field.
The week that was
Not a smooth 80 minutes against Iowa and Penn State, but basketball offers no style points. Imperfect as Ohio State sometimes is, it needed only to take care of business and defeat two unranked opponents. It did, and thereby stayed one loss off the pace in the Big Ten race. The Buckeyes squandered most of a 24-point lead against the Hawkeyes but prevailed. They were stronger at Penn State, building a double-digit lead in the first half and maintaining it for all but a couple of the last 27 minutes.
The week ahead
This is another decent chance for two victories, with Wisconsin visiting and a trip to Nebraska, which lost to the Buckeyes 70-44 in a conference opener on Jan.2. The Cornhuskers have won two of their past three games, at Penn State and at home against Northwestern, but the loss was by 20 points at home to Illinois. The Wisconsin game should be hard to watch, as usual. The Badgers’ last two games have been in the 40s, their tempo ranks among the 10-slowest nationally,and it’s next-to-impossible to force them to deviate.
How good are they?
Tough to tell after the victories last week because neither Iowa nor Penn State is good enough to challenge for a Big Ten title. It doesn’t appear Wisconsin is, either, but the Badgers, like Ohio State, are holding fast near the top of the standings while they put the pieces together on the fly. One will lose some ground on Tuesday, but nearing the halfway point of the race, neither is out of it.
The Buckeyes have held their last five opponents to an average of 58 points, and four of the five shot less than 39 percent from the field, so the defense is playing winning basketball. Albeit against two of the softest defenses in the Big Ten, the offense showed signs of better distributing the scoring load, with Deshaun Thomas joined by three other double-figure scorers against Iowa and two at Penn State. One noticeable difference in the two games was that the Buckeyes eschewed three-point attempts in favor of getting to the basket and free-throw line more. Urged by coach Thad Matta to just play hard and let whatever happens happen, Sam Thompson scored 24 points (16 at Penn State) and made 9 of 11 shots from the field, including all three of his three-point attempts. Before that, he had missed 22 of 27 from behind the arc this season. Lenzelle Smith Jr. also looked back in form after having more turnovers the previous four games than he did field goals and assists combined. He had 23 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and two turnovers in the two games.
Matta was at a loss to explain his suddenly foul-prone players putting Iowa and Penn State into the free-throw bonus early in the second half. It wasn’t fatal, but it caused Matta to jokingly wonder if spreading the minutes among more players has resulted in some playing more carelessly. “I never had this problem when I played five guys. They didn’t foul. And everybody ripped my (rear end) for that,” Matta said, with a smile. “We have to play smarter, (with better) positioning, (better) understanding of what (the opponent is) trying to do.”Defensive rebounding was a big problem against Iowa but none whatsoever against Penn State, so wait and see on that. After scoring 28 points in the loss at Michigan State, Thomas totaled 27 in the two victories, including a season-low 11 at Penn State. But considering the big picture, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The Thomas watch
Thomas missed a few minutes against Iowa after taking an elbow above his right eye that required a bandage so he could return. After the game, he needed six stitches to close the wound permanently.
Thomas said someone told him Shannon Scott — “My own teammate” — hit him, but also said Big Ten Network analyst Jim Jackson told him Scott and an Iowa player both caught him.
“There was blood everywhere.” Thomas said. “I put my hand up and … it was full of red. It was on my shoes. I was kind of shocked.”
He said it was the first time in his life he needed stitches.
“I was kind of nervous, but they numbed it and it didn’t even hurt,” he said.
Outside the lines
Ohio State already had one one-and-done uniform made for it by Nike this season: the white-and-gray camouflage duds worn, briefly, on Nov. 9 at the Carrier Classic, then, after that game was canceled, for the home opener against Albany two days later. Next week comes the encore: red road jerseys the Buckeyes will wear on Feb.5 at Michigan that will feature the school’s athletic logo above the number on the front, and “BUCKEYES” instead of the player’s names above the number on the back.
“According to the question, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” — Matta, when asked before the Penn State game if, halfway through the season, his inconsistent team has developed an identity yet