The week that was
How about “The minute that was?” Trailing Notre Dame 58-50 with less than a minute left in the headline game of the Gotham Classic, Ohio State delivered another miracle at Madison Square Garden, the same arena where the unranked Buckeyes upset No. 1 Duke in the 1978 ECAC Holiday Festival (the same night Woody Hayes was fired) and where they shocked St. John’s in January 2000 with an 11-0 run in the final 2:34. This time, Ohio State blew by the Fighting Irish with a 14-3 run in the final 48 seconds by forcing three turnovers, making eight straight free throws and scoring on their last eight possessions. Oh yeah, and they defeated Delaware earlier in the week, too.
The week ahead
It was a good flight home, whether the players returned on the team’s chartered jet to Columbus or spent Saturday night in New York before going home, as Sam Thompson did (Amedeo Della Valle spent Christmas in New York with his family). All are expected back on campus on Wednesday night to begin preparations for their final nonconference game on Friday and a chance to sweep their pre-Big Ten schedule for only sixth time in 87 years. The other seasons: 2010-11, 2005-06, 1990-91, 1961-62 and 1960-61. The Big Ten opener is Dec. 31 at Purdue.
How good are they?
The Buckeyes (12-0) played their best opponent to date on Saturday, and trailed in the second half for only the third time in 12 games, before stealing themselves an early present. It was enough to keep them No. 3 in the Associated Press Top 25, behind Arizona and Syracuse and just ahead of Big Ten rivals Wisconsin and Michigan State.
Two days before Saturday’s game, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey answered a question about the defensive prowess of Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott by saying, “We’re not going to make them out to be supermen.” Oops. Scott had two steals, Craft forced another turnover, and the two made 3 of 4 free throws in the frantic comeback. Craft also had a driving assist on Lenzelle Smith Jr.’s layup that gave Ohio State a 61-60 lead with 16 seconds left. Craft and Scott combined for nine assists and five steals.
LaQuinton Ross had his second double-double of the season and tied his career-high with 11 rebounds against the Fighting Irish. Amir Williams was solid in both wins with a combined 24 points and 18 rebounds.
After five consecutive games of shooting better than 50 percent from the field, the Buckeyes did not in either game last week, and though they won both, they appeared to let it prey on their minds on defense, which is a cardinal sin in coach Thad Matta’s bible. Four of Ohio State’s past five opponents, in fact, have shot better than 42 percent from the field, and the four that did made at least 50 percent of their two-point attempts. Meanwhile, it’s fair to wonder how well the Buckeyes will shoot once they start playing more games away from home. In their two road games this season, they shot 42.3 percent at Marquette (57.7 in the second half) and 41.8 percent at Madison Square Garden. Do they have a go-to guy when shots aren’t falling? Their leading scorer (Smith) averages 13.1 points. The only Ohio State teams since 1950 whose top scorers averaged less were 1995-96 (Damon Stringer 11.3) and 1950-51 (James Remington 8.5).
Outside the lines
Matta said on an ESPN.com podcast last week that the Buckeyes will take a summer trip to the Bahamas between semesters in August. They last took one to Windsor, Ontario, in August 2009 and are permitted one by the NCAA every four years. Matta mentioned the trip when asked why he prefers playing early season tournaments that include multiple home games and one on a neutral court, like the Gotham Classic this year, rather than playing multiple games in Hawaii or the Caribbean every year. “I’ve never been a real strong advocate of those tournaments,” Matta said. “I’ve always been fearful of taking a real young team (to them) and playing three games in four days. You could lose your team then. I don’t know how beneficial it is.”
“I don’t really know. It was a big blur. You’ve got to give our guys credit. They never stopped. They never gave up. Shannon was running around like he was crazy out there.” — Craft, asked what happened during the final minute against Notre Dame