Born to Run: Ohio State's Cure for the Jump Shooting Blues is in the Transition Game

By Kyle Rowland on January 16, 2013 at 10:00a

There are 347 Division I college basketball teams. It’s possible none have played as flawless a 13-minute stretch as the Ohio State Buckeyes did on Sunday in the first half against No. 2 Michigan.

It's mostly been a one-man show on offense for the Buckeyes.

Ohio State’s offense has suffered from being too one-dimensional and one-player oriented against ranked opponents this season. Prior to Sunday’s game, Ohio State shot less than 34 percent in its losses to Duke, Kansas and Illinois. That percentage rose sharply to 44 percent in a 56-53 win over the previously undefeated Wolverines.

But what was once a 21-point advantage for the Buckeyes grew into a harrowing last-minute escape. Once again, the catalyst was a slow, prodding halfcourt offense.

Less than a month ago, Thad Matta asked for improved jump shooting for Christmas. Little more than two weeks later, the Buckeyes had one of their most disastrous games in recent memory at Illinois.

After opening with 29 points in little more than 13 minutes against the Maize and Blue, Ohio State scored 27 points in the final 27:52. When Michigan switched from a man-to-man defense to a zone, the Buckeyes made a return to running down the shot clock and taking jump shots. The second half included 22 points on 34.8 percent shooting.

“We got very, very excited about this opportunity and got out and probably challenged defensively a little too much,” Michigan head coach John Beilein said. “I like that. I like having the guys that have the big hearts and a lot of courage and want to go out there and get after them. But I think you have to be careful when you do that with their quickness. We may have made it tougher on ourselves.”

What worked for Ohio State during the first 13 minutes was an aggressive offense that concentrated on attacking Michigan at the rim. Twenty-eight of Ohio State’s 56 points came in the paint.

But the second-half lull came in part because the Buckeyes did more standing around, lowering the shot clock and then settling on a low-percentage shot. In the first half, whether there were 20 seconds or five seconds left on the shot clock, Ohio State attempted field goals that were more likely to result in a made basket.

Craft's points have come in spurts.

“What happened when we were doing that was we stopped executing,” Matta said. “Offensively, we needed five guys ready to go, and we went through a stretch there where only two guys – the guy involved in the screen and the guy with the ball – were the only two guys that were playing.

“That’s what we were trying to talk about in timeouts. ‘Hey, everybody’s got a job to do.’ We slowed down in that regard.”

So far, LaQuinton Ross hasn’t been the savior many believed him to be. The Illinois game marked a low point for his shooting and he only played three minutes against Michigan. Amir Williams and Evan Ravenel haven’t been near as productive as Jared Sullinger.

Get Ohio State moving in transition, though, and a well-oiled machine suddenly takes shape. Backup point guard Shannon Scott has helped spur the movement by spearheading instant offense off the bench. He engineered a 14-0 charge against Kansas, but on Sunday, it was a hustle play Scott made on defense that drew headlines.

Trey Burke raced coast-to-coast for what he thought would be an easy layup. Scott, however, chased him down from behind, swatting the ball away in LeBron James-esque fashion. At the other end, Deshaun Thomas made a three. Instead of a five-point lead, the Buckeyes were up 11.

It’s no secret that Matta is of the old school, defensive-minded ilk. He is still a fan offense, though, and he likes scoring in bunches in a variety of different manners. That’s what Ohio State did when it grabbed what appeared to be an insurmountable 29-8 advantage.

Not only did the Buckeyes click on all cylinders offensively, but the caliber of the defense also was superb. Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas were irrelevant for large portions of the game. These are the same three players that sprouted Final Four discussions in Ann Arbor.

“I always want to score 100 points," Matta said. “But the game just kind of lent itself to that. We got off to a great start and kind of died down. It was more ‘Hey, let’s make them work a little bit, let’s make them guard us.’ And it just ended up kind of the way it did.”

Ironically, in its biggest win of the season, Ohio State also provided Big Ten opponents with another blueprint for victory. The level at which the Buckeyes’ offense operated against a man defense compared to a zone was striking. Ohio State was able to create almost limitless production while Michigan played man-to-man and switched on screens, causing severe mismatches on Thomas.

Ross is still growing as a player. 

“I think we tried to hug the perimeter too much and tried to take away their perimeter shooting,” Michigan point guard Trey Burke said.

Said Thomas: “It’s a mismatch. If they switch everybody, it's a mismatch on me and Rav down there.”

Where Ohio State can offset a zone is with Craft penetrating trying to break it. The Buckeyes are at their best when they’re active on offense with ball movement and shots inside the arc. The first half showcased that, while the second half acted as a drop back to reality.

Just a friendly reminder that the Buckeyes’ holes remain.

Twenty-five of the first 29 points of the game were spread between Thomas (11 points), Craft (seven) and Sam Thompson (seven). Facing a quality opponent, Ohio State hasn’t been able to find that level of balance since last March.

Craft and Thompson couldn’t sustain it, however, finishing with nine points apiece. Thomas reached the 20-point plateau, but if his field goals are taken out of the equation, the Buckeyes are left with 14 baskets.

“We played as a young team that doesn’t really have it figured out,” Craft said. “Not that we should have it figured out yet. It’s still early. I think we have a good backbone to lean on.”

A building-block moment came with the game deadlocked at 46 late in the second half. The Buckeyes only had eight field goals in the entire second half, but three of the came in succession, as Ohio State used a 6-0 run to separate itself from Michigan.

All six points – four from Ravenel and two from Thomas – came in the paint.

“We showed our composure and we stayed together as a team,” Thomas said. “And we got some key rebounds at the end. That’s what it's all about. Get those stops, get key rebounds, and it’s over.”

The game, yes. The Big Ten season, it’s only starting. Just ask Indiana.

And Ohio State’s continuity, it’s still coming together, too. At the halfway point most teams know their limits and capabilities. That isn’t entirely the case with Ohio State. It can be viewed as both a positive and a negative.

For Matta, it’s all about the process and season-long journey to basketball salvation.


Comments Show All Comments

Conroy's picture

I miss Sullinger.

slippy's picture

I miss just using the post player.  I want to see Amir or Rav post up and get an entry pass.  It's happened maybe 3 total times this year.  I don't expect them to have the moves or ability that Sully did but the threat should open everyone else up.  Amir has done a great job drawing fouls when he gets the ball down low...and Rav has shown a little ability to face up and knock down a 15-18 footer.  Getting those guys touches down low would help a lot I would think.

Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

I think the problem is that they are never really in great position.  There are two parts to this - 1. being in position with respect to your man, and 2. being in position with respect to the ball.  It's always one but not the other.
We do look down low though.  I've seen DT and Lenzelle on occassion post up and get the ball.  Neither are bad with their back to the rim.  

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popeurban's picture

Sorry, did not see this at time of writing, see post below about attacking the zone.

slippy's picture

They are never in great position because of how we run our offense.  Their #1 job is to set the screen above the 3 point line.  If we tried to run the offense more around the bigs they would work to get into position.  I don't think that should be our offense 100% of the time but it's worth a few looks.

Enzo's picture

Amir has shown a greater ability to lose the ball out of bounds or have it knocked out of his hands by a gentle breeze.
This team lacks strength in the paint. Without another consistent outside shooter their half-court offense is going to continue to suck.

Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

This article echoes my sentiment perfectly.  Very nice write up.

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popeurban's picture

I think it is hard to attack the basket against a zone if you can't hit the jump shot.  What I mean is how will you have the space to get the ball in against a zone if the D does not feel like it has to step out to defend the jump shot in the zone?

Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

This is true, but at the same time, I think both Craft, Scott, Thompson and Smith are all athletic enough to penetrate and collapse the zone.  You can beat a zone without shooting jump shots, but we need to be way more active than we were with back side cuts, quick ball movement and post entry passes.  One guy driving, penetrating and collapsing a zone can easily attract three defenders - this leaves 2 guys open, but they need to work harder mentally and physicallyat getting open, including anticipation and moving towards the basket as opposed to standing on the perimeter.

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popeurban's picture

Great point! I love when teams get aggressive, not only what you mentioned can happen, but they can also draw a foul (free points/get opposing players off of the court).

Enzo's picture

I would trade some of the "athletes" Matta goes after for less athletic shooters. Seems like every team has at least 1 or 2 guys that can just knock down shots from their spot even though they might not be the best defender/rebounder. There's no one on the this team that you just assume the balls going in the hoop when it leaves their hand. Thomas is almost that guy, but not quite a pure shooter.

slippy's picture

Any zone can be beat by proper spacing and quick ball movement.  Gotta attack that 2-3 from the elbows and along the baseline.  No dribbling - just pass, catch, turn, pass before the trap comes.

yrro's picture

That's the biggest problem we have - we play too relaxed at times, with nowhere near enough movement and purpose on offense away from the ball.

RedStorm45's picture

How was the Scott block a 6 point swing? (5 point lead...11 point lead instead.  Burke would have gotten 2 on the layup)

OldColumbusTown's picture

I've said all along that this is a team that potentially needs to press at times in order to score.  Matta has pressed before with some of his teams, but not really because it was necessary.  This group, so talented on defense but limited on offense, has to do something to create easier baskets.  Sure they were able to get turnovers and easy run-out baskets early on against Michigan, but that had as much to do with Michigan being sloppy as it did Ohio State's defensive presence.
Teams are going to zone Ohio State to death in the half-court unless they begin to realize the importance of just passing the ball down into the post.  It doesn't even really matter that much if Rav or Amir are in position to score.  It at least poses the threat to the opposing defense.  Ideally, you get Deshaun on the block and let him go to work, but B1G coaches are a smart bunch, and already we've seen them virtually shade their entire defense towards Deshaun when he has the ball.
Here is where a shooter like Ross (or if he just isn't cutting it, ADV) has to make an impact.  You move the ball in to the post, and then back out while quickly swinging the ball.  You have to make the defense move side to side, but also in and out, with the presence of a knock-down shooter.  It's the only way to create easier passing/entry lanes, as well as areas to which they can make more dangerous cuts to the basket.