Ohio State entered Wednesday night’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge matchup with Maryland ranked No. 5 in the country. The Buckeyes were No. 2 according to Kenpom, which is largely the result of the Buckeye’s stifling defense.
Thad Matta’s team leads the country in defensive efficiency, holding their opponents to 39.0 eFG% (effective field goal percentage), forcing turnovers on nearly a quarter of their possessions and doing so while avoiding fouls.
We knew this was going to happen, however. Aaron Craft might be the best on-ball defender in the country. Shannon Scott may be his biggest challenger for that title. Sam Thompson is an absurd athlete that has the length to bother just about wing player in the country. Add in a big body in Amir Williams in the paint, and, frankly, their defensive prowess should not come as any surprise.
What is somewhat surprising is that the Buckeyes managed to win their first six games, dominating Marquette by holding them to 35 points, despite the fact that LaQuinton Ross has struggled. In his first five games, Ross was averaging 6.2 points and shooting 22.7% from the floor and 22.2% from three. That’s a problem, because the most difficult thing that the Buckeyes have to do this year is replace the scoring of Deshaun Thomas. That was supposed to be Ross’ role.
Well, he’s finally busted out of that slump. On Wednesday night, Ross went for 20 points in Ohio State’s 76-60 win over Maryland. He had 17 points on 6-for-8 shooting, 4-for-5 from three, in the first half. That followed up a 17-point performance — on 6-for-9 shooting, 5-for-8 from three — in a win over North Florida this weekend. Do the math, and Ross scored more points in the last two games than he did the first five, tripling the number of threes he had on the season.
That’s huge for the Buckeyes.
They need Ross’ scoring pop. They need him to hit to averaging around 15 points. They need him to be a go-to guy and a three-point shooter that can spread the floor. That’s his role on this defensive-minded team.
He wasn’t doing that to start the year, but he has the last two games.