After leading Ohio State in both scoring and rebounding this past season, junior forward LaQuinton Ross has made the decision to forego his senior season and enter the 2014 NBA Draft. The news was announced by the school Friday afternoon.
“LaQuinton was an instrumental part of our success over the last three years,” Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said in the release. “His goal is to compete at the highest level possible. He will have that opportunity because of the work he has put in to prepare for this day. He will be missed at Ohio State and we wish him nothing but the very best.”
After a string of quality performances in the 2013 NCAA tournament Ross put together his most productive season in Columbus as a junior, averaging 15.2 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. Ross surpassed the 20-point mark in seven games this season, scoring a career-high 26 points in Ohio State’s Big Ten quarterfinal victory over Nebraska.
That win over Nebraska was also one of five games in which Ross posted a double-double this season. Ross becomes the second player to leave the Ohio State program with eligibility remaining, as guard Amedeo Della Valle made the decision to play for a professional team in his native Italy days after the Buckeyes’ season came to an end in the NCAA tournament.
Losing Ross, ranked the 63rd-best prospect by DraftExpress.com, means that Ohio State will have one less proven scorer in 2014-15. However his departure opens up more opportunities for incoming freshman wings Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate, with guard D’Angelo Russell and center David Bell joining them in Ohio State’s 2014 recruiting haul.
Ohio State looked beaten. With roughly thirteen minutes remaining the second half, the Buckeyes were losing by eighteen points and appeared as if they would rather be anywhere other than Indianapolis. The squad was teetering: too proud to lay down and allow Nebraska, one of the nation’s hottest teams, to finish the steamroll, but uncertain if it was worth fighting back. OSU slowly began to chip away, however, and the lead, decreasing minute by minute, evaporated until OSU took the lead with sixty seconds remaining. Ohio State’s rebirth was complete — the Buckeyes escaped the quarterfinals, defeating the Cornhuskers 71-67.
Making their move midway through the second half, the Ohio State win was a combination of traditionally stout Buckeye defense and a complete breakdown of Nebraska’s offense. Tim Miles’ team scored .99 points per possession in the first half, but that rating dropped to .92 in the final twenty minutes; rather than continue attacking their OSU defenders and getting to the basket, NU started settling for long-range attempts (of which they converted only 30 percent), a puzzling strategy since it’s been proven that Nebraska’s outside shooting isn’t robust (32.9 percent in Big Ten play). The moment which encapsulated NU’s offensive timidity came after Walter Pitchford rose for an ally-oop but missed the attempted reverse dunk — Nebraska converted only two shots from the field following the failed dunk.
LaQuinton Ross was the hero of the stat sheet, scoring 26 points on a variety of mid-range jumpers, but the Buckeye who deserves credit for sparking the comeback, and one who clearly enjoys playing Nebraska, is Amedeo Della Valle. The lanky wing, sporting a hairdo that rivals Bradley Cooper’s ‘American Hustle’ character, had previously scored a season-high 15 versus NU, and followed that effort with twelve points today. The sophomore barely played last season, but after a successful summer leading Italy to the U20 European Championship (earning an MVP nod for his efforts), it is evident the wing’s frenetic offense and fearlessness when in the open court could earn him more minutes.
After winning three straight games Ohio State dropped road games at Penn State and Indiana, falling out of the national polls and finding themselves in danger of not receiving a first-round bye in next week’s Big Ten tournament as a result. The Buckeyes’ game against No. 22 Michigan State was also Senior Day for a highly successful class, but the most important thing for Thad Matta’s team to do was get back on track ahead of postseason play.
Ohio State (23-8, 10-8) was able to do that thanks in large part to their effort on the defensive end, holding Michigan State (23-8, 12-6) scoreless over the final 4:30 to win 69-67 in the regular season finale for both.
The Buckeyes are by no means an explosive offensive team; that much has been known all season long. And the absence of a consistent shot-maker has meant that Ohio State has needed to adjust, something they’ve struggled with at times in conference play. One way in which to make up for that deficiency is to attack the paint and Ohio State was able to do that Sunday, outscoring the Spartans 34-20 in that statistical category.
LaQuinton Ross, a gifted player who’s struggled to put it all together on a consistent basis, scored a team-high 22 points on 9-for-15 shooting. He rarely settled for tough shots against Michigan State, and it will be interesting to see if he can build on this performance as Ohio State enters postseason play. And if this group is to make any kind of noise in the NCAA tournament that has to be the case.
Ross’ individual performance is to be commended, but the defense down the stretch made the difference. In the final 4:30 Michigan State turned the ball over three times and missed four shots, with Ohio State keeping the Spartans from establishing any rhythm offensively. And for the game the Buckeyes would force 16 turnovers, converting those mistakes into 21 valuable points (plus-9 in points off turnovers). Ohio State may not have prolific scorers but they do have quality defenders, led by a senior in Craft (now the Big Ten’s all-time steals leader) who managed to corral a critical rebound with 29 seconds remaining.
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Ohio State in conference play, as evidenced by their ten league losses. But this is still a group that has experience and the ability to defend. Do that while finding quality looks on the other end, and Ohio State can be successful as the games get even bigger this month.