Ohio State finished its season on a somber note, losing by a single point to in-state rival Dayton in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Senior guards Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. were not the only Buckeyes who wrapped up their college careers after Vee Sanford's runner fell through the basket. Junior forward LaQuinton Ross joined Amedeo Della Valle as players to leave early to play professionally. Ross made a huge leap from being a role player on Ohio State's Elite Eight team to being the main scoring option for the 2013-14 edition of the Buckeyes. He will now try his hand at being a formidable threat in the NBA.
2012-13 Season Stats: 16.9 MPG, 8.5 PPG, 0.5 APG, 0.4 SPG, 46.8% FGP
2013-14 Season Stats: 29.0 MPG, 15.2 PPG, 0.8 APG, 0.7 SPG, 44.7% FGP
It was imperative that Ross take it upon himself to be more assertive coming into this season with the departure of leading scorer Deshaun Thomas. LGHL took a look at what Ross needed to improve most about his game prior to the 2013-14 campaign.
-The 2012-2013 Buckeyes depended heavily on DeShaun Thomas's scoring prowess, and Ross does have the skills to fill that role as a pure shooter. Ross just needs to be consistent offensively with more playing time. Ross has added about ten pounds to his 6'8" frame since last season, bringing his weight up to around 225, which will create a more physical presence on the inside both offensively and defensively. Ross has also reportedly worked on conditioning in preparation for increased playing time, as well as working on ball control, to limit the turnovers he's been prone to in the past, and improving his defense, which has not necessarily been a strength.
Ross exploded for 20-point games eight times during the 2013-14 season, but he by far performed his best during the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis. He willed the Buckeyes past Purdue in the first round, scoring 19 points and pulling down a career-high 15 rebounds. In the following game against Nebraska, the Buckeyes found themselves in a steep 18-point hole before Ross went off with the help of eight Nebraska turnovers in the second half. Ross finished with a career-high 26 points and 13 rebounds to lead Ohio State to the biggest comeback in Big Ten Tournament history.
It should also be noted that Ross averaged 21.5 points per game against hated rival Michigan and raised the level of his play towards the end of the season. He shot more than 40 percent from the field in five of his last six games.
The games that stick out here are Nov. 11 on the road against Marquette and Jan. 7 in at Michigan State. Ross' only goose egg of the season came against Marquette in a game where literally no one was making shots. We can give him a pass for that game, considering it was Ohio State's first true road game in a fairly hostile environment. Ross' five points against Michigan State was much more unforgivable. He went 1-of-7 from the field and was a non-factor in the Buckeyes' comeback that fell short in overtime.
Despite those duds, Ross' worst performance was when his team needed his scoring punch the most. In the final game of the season - Ohio State's 60-59 loss to Dayton - Ross scored 10 points on 5-of-12 from the field, only grabbed two rebounds, and turned the ball over five times. Aaron Craft did everything in his power to extend his career late against Dayton, but Ross needed to have one of his best games against an undersized Dayton front court. Instead, he could not find the range, shooting 0-of-3 from three-point land, and he failed to find shots for his teammates either.
The scoring prowess was quite impressive, considering where he came from in his sophomore year, helping him land a spot as a third-team all-Big Ten selection. Ross never became the guy that we saw near the end of last year's NCAA run full-time though, alternating outstanding games with mediocre ones, while occasionally letting his emotions get the better of him, leading to more questions about his maturity.
In previous seasons, head coach Thad Matta could not leave Ross on the floor late in games because he could not be trusted to defend Big Ten forwards. This season Ross used his length and athleticism on the defensive end a lot more than he ever did in the past. He still has some work to do before he can convince an NBA general manager that he can defend elite forwards at the next level, but Ross' all around potential is still undeniable.
LaQuinton Ross will be a professional basketball player next season, but where is still very much in the air. His gifts are clear to anybody who even casually watched Big Ten basketball last season. He's a strong outside shooter, he runs well, he brings great size and athleticism for his position, and showed the ability to bully his way to the basket during the season. He was Ohio State's best score and rebounder, and the gap between him and other players on the roster, much to the chagrin of Buckeyes fans, was often substantial.
However, there are still lots of questions about Ross. His problems with turnovers and consistency were still very much part of his game last season, and Ross sometimes struggled to find ways to impact the game when his shot wasn't falling. Ohio State needed him to be not just a primary scorer, but a consistent one, and that just wasn't the case last year.
Right now, Ross is projected to be a second round pick in the draft by most experts, and it is unclear if he'll be able to stick on an NBA roster this season, or if he will need to ply his trade in Europe for a while. The potential for Ross to be an NBA contributor is still here, but if he's going to grow into that role, it will happen outside the friendly confines of Columbus.
Matt Brown contributed to this report.