Thad Matta recalled the day this summer when guard Shannon Scott took 400 shots.
“He told me, ‘I’ve never done that before,’” Matta said, “and I said, ‘Maybe there’s a reason you haven’t shot the ball particularly well.’”
Ohio State’s men’s basketball coach grinned.
Funny, yes. But he also was serious.
When DeShaun Thomas packed up his 20 points a game and left for the pros after last season, filling that gaping hole in the offense became the top priority. The popular theory is that junior LaQuinton Ross will pick up the slack. Although Ross did score 14 points yesterday in an 89-50 season-opening win over Morgan State, Scott’s performance was more intriguing.
Scott hit three three-pointers in the first 2:04 to stake Ohio State to an 11-2 lead. He finished with 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the field, including 4 of 7 on three-pointers. Last season, the 6-foot-2 junior was the worst shooter among the eight players who logged the most minutes, shooting .408 overall and .333 from three-point range.
“I tried to stay in the gym as much as possible during the summer and the preseason,” Scott said. “I think last year there were some times when I didn’t take my shot as serious. I think I’m doing a lot better job now of just making every shot count and making the most of it, and they’re going in.”
The other parts of Scott’s game have been strong. When he was paired with Aaron Craft in the backcourt last season, their relentless ball-hawking often made opponents feel as if they had stumbled into a hornet’s nest. Both are also adept at finding their way to the basket, although their so-so shooting made it easier for opponents to pack it in and clog the driving lanes.
For Scott in particular, strengthening that part of his game became an emphasis.
“That’s something for him we talked about all offseason, that you’ve got to be able to knock down those shots because it’s just going to open up so much more,” Matta said. “He had shot it so well up to this point, 36 practices, so to see it going in with the lights on was huge for us.”
It’s huge because it makes his teammates more difficult to guard. Thomas was a magnet for defenders and created space for his teammates, and the Buckeyes also used high-ball screens to open the driving lanes.
But Matta would like to accomplish the same results with balance, and yesterday the Buckeyes showed how that could be done: Guard Lenzelle Smith (18), Scott (16), Ross (14), forward Sam Thompson (14) and freshman forward Marc Loving (10) gave Ohio State five players in double figures.
Let the buyer beware: This was a game with a Morgan State team willing to take a beating for a fat paycheck. Still, the results could definitely be construed as encouraging. The buzz from practice has been that Scott may be the most improved player.
“First of all, he’s knocking down shots at an alarming rate,” Thompson said. “He’s been much more aggressive, and he’s really done a good job of leading whatever team he’s on in practice. The point guards are usually the engine of the team, and when Shannon’s going the way he’s been going in practice, it’s evident by the way all the other guys on the team are playing.”
But the other numbers beside Scott’s name in the box score aren’t particularly surprising (he had seven assists, four rebounds and one steal) because we’ve seen that before. The real story — and the real impact this season — might be that “alarming” number of shots he is making.
“We grab him every night after practice and make him get 100 threes up,” Matta said. “With the luxury of eight buckets, we usually have other guys doing it, but his is specific: You’re going to shoot 100 threes.”
Based on the evidence so far, the approach seems to be working.
Bob Hunter is a sports columnist for The Dispatch.