Minnesota was looking for redemption on its home court after dropping both of its first two conference games. The Barn was primed to welcome their team for the first home conference game. The Gophers played in rare all-black uniforms, and much of the crowd joined in a black-out for the visiting underdog Buckeyes. But the Buckeyes had other plans and survived a nail biter that went to overtime, 74-72.
Ohio State kept with the man defense it employed in the second half of the Illinois game and built to a 41-29 lead. The Buckeyes were sloppy at times and allowed some runs from Minnesota, but eventually tightened up and rode the hot hand of D'Angelo Russell.
Ohio State maintained a lead for nearly all of the second half, fending off some streaky minutes from the Gophers and running hard on transition to find open shots. Shannon Scott had a quality game, managing the offense well and getting his own points when he had an opening. Marc Loving also played a solid game, though his points don't reflect it. He did, however, hit a big dunk to the end the first half and the game winner with 5.6 seconds left in OT. Amir Williams predictably looked lost and confused at times but also used his size advantage to push Minnesota players around a bit down low. Williams picked up a technical foul late in the second half after being called for a questionable foul under the basket. He even missed a gimme layup that would've won the game in regulation. His confusing play continues.
3 things we learned
1. Watching D'Angelo Russell play hot is like staring at the sun. I've seen some impressive minutes by Russell so far this season, but Russell's first-half offensive output was the best I've seen. Russell hit from 3-point range, drove the basket, dropped in weirdo tear drop flipshots, everything. I don't know what the scouting report on Russell was, but it took Minny until nearly the end of the first half to start focusing their defensive attention on Ohio State's top scorer.
At the half Russell had 25 points on 10-12 shooting. He outscored the rest of the team, combined, by 9. To put it in perspective, compare him to another Ohio State great:
D'Angelo Russell scored almost 3x as many points in first half tonight that I scored in my entire career. Not sure how to feel about this.— Mark Titus (@clubtrillion) January 7, 2015
He's far and away the most talented scorer on this team. When he gets hot, watch out, get out of his way, and hope the rest of the team doesn't blow it. The best part of Russell's performance tonight was his attitude while he was doing it - he wasn't boastful, he wasn't talking trash, he just had a huge grin on his face, obviously loving every minute of his stellar performance.
2. Man defense may be here to stay. Until the second half of the Illinois game, Ohio State played exclusively zone defense, swarming to the ball and clogging any attempts by their opponents to get the ball inside.
The Buckeyes have now switched to a man scheme, but the principles and energy of the zone are still present. Switches are clean, help comes quickly, rotations look coordinated and well-timed. With only one player to focus on (for the most part), these Buckeyes are free to play a little peskier on defense. You can see shades of Craft's game in the defense of the older guys, particularly Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson.
The Buckeyes may be a man team now, but its comforting to know they can switch back to confuse team if the situation calls for it. There's still some work to do. Ohio State let in a lot of points down low tonight on leaky paint defense. Teaching points, I'm sure.
3. This young team plays composed, confident ball. Ohio State has been maligned this year for losing to the three best teams on its schedule so far. But the ray of hope in those losses was the way Ohio State bounced back in to the game through focus, determination and a refusal to quit.
That focus is present even in more ordinary games like tonight. I'm not in the huddle or hearing That Matta's speeches, so I can't say where this focus comes from, but its clear that someone is guiding this young team and keeping their heads screwed on straight. Unfocused play doesn't last for long, mistakes rarely happen twice, and the in-game adjustments of this team are on point.
Other Ohio State teams may have had more experience, or more talent, or more size, but they didn't always have that undefinable resilience that this team exhibits. Its probably a combination of excellent coaching and leadership from Shannon Scott and rest of the seniors, but that sort of stick-together, one-for-all attitude will serve this team well as the season goes on.