The Buckeyes entered Sunday's home game coming off of a dramatic road win against Northwestern. Thad Matta's team hoped to get a more inspiring result against Tom Crean's Indiana Hoosiers, the No. 23 squad in the country. They certainly got that, controlling the bulk of the game and maintaining a consistent lead of six points or more for almost the entirety of the contest. The Buckeyes and the Hoosiers, the two most prolific scoring teams in the Big Ten, did their best to retain that distinction by scoring early and often.
The Bucks went down quickly -- terrible shot selection from this young team and a hot shooting start by the Hoosiers gave Indiana a 12-4 lead after just three minutes. But D'Angelo Russell did his best to keep Ohio State in the game, scoring 13 of the Buckeyes' first 19 points and opening up the floor with his precise passing. "Doc," as Clark Kellogg apparently decided to dub Russell, was clearly the difference-maker in the early going: the Buckeyes didn't score a point during Russell's only stint on the bench. The Buckeyes jumped out to an eight point lead with Russell back in the game, continuing to frustrate Indiana's offense and largely controlling the pace of the game.
Ohio State held a six point lead coming out of halftime. They doubled that in a hurry, jumping out to a 13-point lead five minutes into the second half on the back of (you guessed it) D'Angelo Russell, with some help from Marc Loving and co. It was at this point that we saw the Buckeyes finally start to look like the "junkyard dogs" that Kellogg said they needed to be to make a deep run this season. While Indiana's ridiculous run of three-point shooting continued, Ohio State's tenacity on the offensive and defensive boards began to wear down the Hoosiers in the second half.
Still, the Hoosiers refused to cave, drawing the game back within six points midway through the second half. Yogi Ferrell, who finished with 26 points, made a Herculean effort to keep Indiana alive, finishing several times in traffic and directing the high-powered Hoosier offense. For the Buckeyes, there was a scary moment late in the game when D'Angelo Russell went down for the second time in the span of a few minutes, but it appears that it was due to leg cramps rather than a more serious hamstring injury. He sat the last three minutes of the game.
3 Things we learned:
1) D'Angelo Russell is still the man. The odds that we see Russell back in a Buckeye uniform next season are bombing towards zero at full throttle. Russell put the team on his back on Sunday in a game in which Ohio State easily could have folded, after Indiana jumped out to an early big lead on a ridiculous shooting streak. But Russell refused to be denied. The freshman phenom scored 15 first half points, including 13 of the first 19 by the Buckeyes, to help the team fight back from the early deficit.
With Russell on the bench, the Buckeyes stalled out on offense, not recording a point. With him? Ohio State rattled off a handful of unanswered buckets before the Hoosiers brought it back within six at halftime. Russell kept up the pace in the second half, nearly recording a triple-double. This team is going to continue to live and die with Russell until, as Matta referenced before the game, Loving and Thompson start consistently scoring in double figures. Russell, meanwhile, stuffed the stat sheet, racking up 10 assists and 6 rebounds to go with his 22 total points.
2) Small-ball might be OSU's best look. Amir Williams has been tepid. Trey McDonald hasn't been any better. Put simply, trying to play big down low has not worked out well for the Buckeyes this year. But the look that Thad Matta brought out against Indiana saw Ohio State really start to click on offense and swarm on defense. The Buckeyes looked best with three forwards and two guards on the floor (though true center Anthony Lee technically got the start), using their speed and outside shooting ability to space the floor and create opportunities for penetration.
This look worked especially well against an Indiana team that will be without big man Hanner Mosquera-Perea until mid-February. Lacking a dominant threat on the blocks, Indiana was unable to take advantage of Ohio State's undersized defensive unit as much as they would have liked. Forwards Sam Thompson, Marc Loving, and Jae'Sean Tate were able to carve out a nice niche both inside and outside the paint as a result.
3) No Aaron Craft, no problem. Heading into the season, a big question mark was how the Buckeyes would recreate the defensive productivity of Aaron Craft, the Big Ten's career steals leader. Ohio State seemed to find its answer--the team forced 15 turnovers, including 11 in the first half, and gave Indiana's guards fits when the Hoosiers tried to push the tempo early.
Scoring off of turnovers is not something the Buckeyes were able to do reliably a month ago. Ohio State turned in a disastrous performance against UNC in late December despite the Tar Heels doing everything imaginable to try to give that game away. It could have been even worse than it was, as Ohio State squandered several possessions off of turnovers.. But the Buckeyes look much more aggressive and effective on the defensive end with the reimplementation of man-to-man as opposed to the 2-3 zone over the last few games, and still racked up more than 25 points off of Hoosier mistakes. Here's hoping Matta sticks to that scheme.