After an embarrassing loss to Florida Atlantic earlier in the week, the Ohio State Men’s Basketball team (8-2) got back in the win column with a 64-60 victory over the University of Connecticut (4-5). The game was back-and-forth for the majority of the night, but Ohio State used a career-night from sixth man Trevor Thompson and a significant advantage from the free-throw line to get one of their best wins of the young season.
The Buckeyes started strong, racing out to an early 13-6 lead over the Huskies. Point-guard JaQuan Lyle collected three assists by the under-16 timeout, however, the offense went cold as UConn tightened the score by the midway point of the first half.
Despite the Huskies committing eight turnovers in the first 13 minutes of the game, the Buckeyes were unable to capitalize, converting those TOs into only two points. UConn retook the lead, 19-18, with seven-minutes remaining in the half.
Part of the offensive problem was that Ohio State shooters were a combined 2-12 from behind the arc in the first half, while shooting 9-18 from two-point range. Throughout the non-conference section of the schedule, the Buckeyes have seen success with getting the ball inside, but they primarily stayed out of the lane in the game’s first 10 minutes.
The second 10 minutes of the game went back-and-forth, with six lead changes in the first half. With Ohio State leading 32-31 with time running out, UConn guard Jalen Adams hit a three to give the Huskies the halftime advantage.
At the break, Adams led all scorers with 13 points on 5-6 shooting from the field, however, he hit his first second-half bucket with 23 seconds left in the game. Ohio State was paced by center Trevor Thompson who had nine points and six rebounds off the bench in the first 20 minutes. Starter Micah Potter pulled in two board in six minutes before having to exit with two fouls.
The Huskies played without guard/forward Terry Larrier and guard Alterique Gilbert, who are both out for the season with injuries. Forward Juwan Durham also did not make the trip to Columbus as he is dealing with the flu.
Despite a missed three-pointer from Lyle to open the second half, Jae’Sean Tate took the ball on the second possession and drove to the lane before being fouled on the shot attempt. His two free throws ended a 10-0 UConn run that spanned the halves.
From there, UConn continued to maintain a thin lead until, with 9:59 left in the half, Thompson found Keita Bates-Diop under the basket for a layup to tie the game at 47.
Despite the tight game, UConn held a substantial advantage in terms of shooting. With under nine minutes remaining, the Huskies shot 55.6% from the field, compared to Ohio State’s 34. The difference in the game came from the free throw line, where OSU shot 26-34, and in the turnover margin, which Ohio State won 16-7.
Despite those advantages, Ohio State continued its icy streak from outside, going 0-6 from downtown in the second half. However, Thompson had a career-night racking up 17 points and 17 rebounds, both of which were career highs.
After Lyle stole the ball from Allen at mid-court, he missed the layup, and after the ball bounced around, Thompson came down with it as he was being fouled. He hit the subsequent free throws to give OSU the 56-54 lead with two minutes left in regulation; a lead they never relinquished.
As they have been throughout the season, the Buckeyes were fairly balanced on the stats sheets. In addition to Thompson’s 17, Lyle scored 16 points, Tate had 13, and Marc Loving contributed nine.
Ohio State returns to the hardwood next Saturday, December 17th in Las Vegas, NV against No. 2 UCLA. The game will tip at 3 p.m. EST on CBS.
Three things we learned:
1. The Buckeyes are not a great three-point shooting team. Coming into the game, Ohio State was shooting just 36.4% from behind the arc, which ranked them in a tie for 127th in country. Yet, early in the game the deep ball appeared to be the only shot that the Buckeyes were interested in taking.
Throughout the season, Ohio State has found success in transition and by getting the ball in the lane, but it took them nearly 10 minutes to remember that and finally abandoned the unsuccessful barrage from downtown. At the end of the first half, OSU had 16 of their 32 points in the paint, and only six from outside the arc.
While the re-hiring of OSU legend and renowned shooting-guru Chris Jent will likely have a longterm impact on Ohio State’s three-point shooting, it hasn’t yet. If this Ohio State team is ever going to find a successful identity, the stats suggest that it is much more likely to be in the paint than behind the arc.
2. The Buckeyes are becoming a decent free-throw shooting team. Over the last three seasons, Ohio State has been abysmal from the charity stripe. Since 2012-2013, the Buckeyes have ranked 206th, 229th, and 234th in free-throw shooting percentage nationally.
Believe it or not, on the young 2016-2017 season, they are even worse, ranking 313th shooting 63.1% coming into Saturday’s game. However, in three of the last four games there has been a marked and considerable improvement from the line. Against Virginia, the Bucks shot 11-13 (84.6%), against Florida Atlantic they shot 17-22 (77.3%), and against UConn, OSU was 26-34 (76.5%).
If Ohio State is able to consistently do what they do best from the floor and regularly work the ball inside, this should result in more opportunities to get to the line, especially in the physical Big Ten. To make the most of those opportunities, the Buckeyes will need to shoot better from the stripe, and even though years of data from the Thad Matta era might suggest otherwise, there is cause for optimism for the Buckeyes in this department.
3. It might be time to get Trevor Thompson back in the starting lineup. Nearly all Buckeye fans were surprised when Matta installed freshman Micah Potter as the OSU starting center in the season opener against Navy. The 6’9” Mentor native has shown flashes in the early season, both under the basket and behind the arc, but his productivity has been inconsistent.
Coming into Saturday’s matchup against UConn, he was averaging just 4.9 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. Seven-foot junior Trevor Thompson, on the other hand, averaged 10.3 points and 5.8 boards. Despite not starting, Thompson was averaging a little over two more minutes of playing time per game on the season.
Against UConn, Thompson went for the aforementioned double-double, while Potter was scoreless with three rebounds in 10 minutes on the floor.
While a strong sixth man can be a valuable tool for a basketball team, the statistical edge for Thompson is only part of the equation. As evidenced on Saturday night, all too often, Ohio State falls in love with the deep ball early. With Thompson in the starting lineup, there is a distinct possibility that his leadership and energy will keep the team focused on the gameplan of working inside-out.