Thad Matta,  LaQuinton Ross, Evan Ravenel

The key to Ohio State’s season? Finding that third scorer

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UNCASVILLE, Conn. – When Deshaun Thomas gets into rhythm, there aren’t many players in the country that can score like him. After averaging 15.9 points as a sophomore, Thomas entered Sunday afternoon’s matchup with Washington in the final of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off averaging 22.0 points early on this season. The 6-foot-7 lefty did nothing to dissuade that opinion on him, either, as he hit nine of his first ten shots from the floor, scoring 21 of his 31 points in the first half, adding eight boards and four assists.

Aaron Craft showed off a bit of a refined scoring touch as well. He finished with 18 points, giving Washington fits with his ability to run off of a pick-and-roll while playing his usual brand of lockdown defense and running Ohio State’s offense like the veteran all-american he is; Craft’s stat-line on Sunday was rounded out with four assists, two steals and just a single turnover.

Do the math, and those two combined for 49 points on 17-32 shooting from the floor and 12-13 from the line in No. 4 Ohio State’s 77-66 win over Washington.

The rest of the Buckeyes?

28 points. 10-25 from the floor. 8-13 from the line. That includes 12 points on 4-5 shooting from senior center Evan Ravenel, a performance OSU can’t exactly become reliant; ‘Rav’ averaged a career-high 3.4 points last season and entered Sunday’s game with a grand-total of two points this season.

But Ohio State is going to have to count on those ‘unexpected’ performances this year; regardless of where it comes from, the Buckeyes need a third source of points.

The first two games of the season, it was Lenzelle Smith. Much was expected of the junior guard heading into this season after he put together a couple of explosive scoring performances during the regular season and a very solid NCAA tournament. Smith was pegged as one of the players to see an increase in shot attempts with Jared Sullinger’s departure, and the 16.5 points he was averaging entering Sunday are evidence that line of thinking proved to be prophetic.

But Smith struggled with his shot on Sunday, finishing 0-5 from the field without scoring a single point.

“I thought Lenzelle played a heckuva basketball game,” Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said after the game, and that’s probably a fair, albeit slightly exaggerated, statement. He had three assists and a couple of steals, he didn’t turn the ball over, he helped keep Washington’s talented perimeter attack in check until the second half. But he didn’t score, and at the end of the day, the winner of a basketball is determined by who scores more points. “He’s been 18 or 15 for us, and he knows he has to do that.”

Matta knows, however, that there are going to be nights where Smith’s shot isn’t falling. And he also knows that Shannon Scott and LaQuinton Ross aren’t exactly ready to be major contributors for this team; and that Sam Thompson, for all that otherworldly athleticism, isn’t much more than an athlete at this point in his career; and that his big men are more adept at taking up space than they are at being even half of the low post threat that Jared Sullinger was.

Perhaps most importantly, however, Matta knows that his team doesn’t need those five to be much more than role players that can consistently do their jobs. But on nights like Sunday, when Smith’s shot isn’t dropping, someone needs to step up.

“[Ravenel] had to do what he did,” Matta said, while also driving home the point that the rest of his bench still performed. “I thought [Ross and Williams] were very effective. Sam Thompson, once he started playing harder and challenging shots, Amir and Q, it’s still relatively new to them. This was a very good test for them.”

“Very excited about the way we played. I told our guys we learned a lot about ourselves in this game.”

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman out with a knee injury

UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. shoots against San Diego State during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
(L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
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The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.

The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.

They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.

That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.

So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.

Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:

VIDEO: Buddy Hield is ‘all money’ on game-winning three vs. No. 24 Texas

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) takes a shot over Oklahoma State forward Chris Oliver during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
(AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
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With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.

At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes

“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:

“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”

“It’s all money.”

Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.

Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .

Want to talk about coaching luxuries?

Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.