Ohio State coach Thad Matta spent most of November roaming the campus, looking for someone. Rumor has it that Mirror Lake was drained for this purpose, to locate a 6-8, 220-pound wing forward. Anybody seen LaQuinton Ross?
Remember that dude, from last spring? He dropped 17 points on Iowa State, 17 on Arizona and 19 on Wichita State in the NCAA tournament. Willowy young man, silky smooth, killer shooter?
Wait, there he is.
Last night in Value City Arena, Ross made four three-pointers in the first six minutes and helped stake Ohio State to a lead that would not be threatened. The Buckeyes rolled to a 76-60 victory over Maryland in a game played under the aegis of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
“I think he has slowed things down in his mind,” Matta said of Ross. “The look on his face, it’s just a little bit different.”
It was 10 days ago that Matta benched Ross for the last 10 minutes of a game against Wyoming. At that point, Ross had missed 18 of his previous 20 shots and was shooting 22 percent from the field on the season, worst on the team.
Matta was flummoxed. He was getting scoring from all over the place — even the center position — but Ross was curiously absent. Matta needs him. Maybe not against Wyoming, but sooner or later, Ross will have to be a factor. If the Buckeyes aspire to do big things, they must have Ross as a weapon.
“LaQuinton is one of these guys that the second he relaxes, he becomes an average player,” Matta said this week. “He’s starting to come to grips with that.”
Ross broke out with 17 points against North Florida on Friday. Afterward, Matta said he was curious to see what Ross would do in the early stages against Maryland. He wanted to see Ross set a certain tone.
And Ross did, with that sweet, sweet jumper. He shot over Maryland’s defense, scored 12 points over a few ticks of the clock and propelled the Buckeyes to an 18-9 lead.
“I think that kind of relaxed everyone else and got us going,” point guard Aaron Craft said.
Ross had 17 points in the first half, 20 for the game. He was not made available to the media. When Matta was asked why, he said: “There’s only one voice he’s listening to now, and it’s mine.”
Ross is a junior. He is 21 years old. On the strength of three good games last spring, he was selected to the John Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 list. He popped up on every NBA prospects list. One might guess that there is a lot swirling around in his head. One might also guess that there are a lot of people whispering things in his ear.
Apparently, Matta is trying to cut out the outside noise and get his player to focus.
“I think as the year goes on and he gets more games, more practices under him, he’s going to be more consistent,” associate coach Dave Dickerson said this week. “As he begins to trust what we’re saying and what we’re doing, I think you’ll see his play improve. You have to flush through the outside forces.”
The coaches are hoping that the flushing has commenced. Ross has 37 points the past two games. He has made 13 of 22 shots from the field and 8 of 13 from three-point range.
“He’s communicating in practice that he wants to be coached,” Matta said “That’s a sign of a good player, a kid who cares — which we know he does.”
Maybe Ross is being scared straight. Even with last night’s performance, he is shooting just 35 percent and averaging 9.7 points, and it is not like he has been playing Bevo Francis. Did somebody say NBA? At this point, only the next opponent, Central Connecticut, matters. That is the message, more or less.
Michael Arace is a sports reporter for The Dispatch.