As is the case with a lot of players, LaQuinton Ross wasn’t recruited for his defense. It was only after he arrived at Ohio State that he discovered he was expected to apply himself as much to preventing baskets as to scoring them.
It wasn’t love at first sight, but it definitely seems to be growing on him.
“He’s a lot like Deshaun (Thomas was),” coach Thad Matta said. “There was a day when he started taking pride in getting the stops and doing what he was supposed to do, and you really see that (now) with LaQuinton. Hopefully, knock on wood, he’ll continue that because it’s definitely helping us.”
Ohio State has won six of its past seven games, and in four of the past five — the exception being a loss to Michigan — the Buckeyes have limited their opponent to less than a point per possession, and to 60 or fewer points for the game.
The improved cohesion very well could be due to the strides made by Ross, who, like his teammates, did a lot of soul-searching after an overtime loss at home to Penn State on Jan. 29. The rematch is tonight in State College, Pa.
“Obviously, with the size LaQuinton has, with his wingspan and how tall he is, he can disrupt a lot of things,” guard Aaron Craft said. “The biggest thing you have to try to get across to people is you don’t necessarily have to get a steal, but we need you to be in the right position, we need you to discourage a drive here or discourage a pass here. LaQuinton’s able to do that with his length. If he’s in the right position, he can take up a lot of space.”
Guard Sam Thompson said the Buckeyes are “a different team” from the one that squandered an 11-point lead against Penn State the last time they played.
“One of the sayings going around in our locker room right now is no more ‘my bads,’ ” Thompson said. “We don’t want to be put in a position in a game where we mess up and we have to say, ‘my bad.’ We feel, at this point in the season, we can no longer live through those.”
On defense, at least, Ross might have led the team in those at one point. But he has been more accountable in the past month, dating to Penn State’s Brandon Taylor making four three-pointers and scoring 19 points. Two games before that, Shavon Shields of Nebraska had 18 points.
“I think I’m more attentive to the game right now,” Ross said.
None of the forwards he has been assigned to primarily guard in the past seven games has scored in double figures. Matta also hasn’t been removing Ross on defensive possessions late in games, as he was for a while in January.
“In Q’s defense, if you look across the Big Ten, most teams have a really, really good player at his position,” Matta said. “I think that aided Deshaun as well in his time here. He was normally guarding a really, really good basketball player.
“With that said, I think Q’s found that, ‘Hey, if I want to make an impact in the game, I’ve got to take this more serious and make it count.’ I think he’s more prideful in what he’s doing defensively.”