BUFFALO, N.Y. — Mike Conley, Evan Turner, Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas have all played prominent roles in recent NCAA Tournament runs for Ohio State. And they’ve done so with offense, which is where the month of March is won.
LaQuinton Ross burnished his credentials last March, converting a buzzer-beating three-pointer to defeat Arizona in the Sweet 16 and averaging more than 17 points per game.
A year later, Ross is rising once again.
“It’s just that time of the year,” he said. “I know what’s at stake right now. In order for this team to win, everyone has to pitch in and do their part, and I’ve tried to do mine. It’s the time of year when the best players have to step up.”
Ross has scored at least 19 points in the past six games and is coming off an all-tournament performance in Indianapolis, where he averaged 21.3 points and 11.3 rebounds.
In wins over Purdue (15 rebounds) and Nebraska (26 points), Ross established new career highs.
“That was some of my best basketball,” he said. “I was able to make a couple shots and do what my teammates needed to win.”
Said fellow classmate Sam Thompson: “Q has that look in his eye that when he touches the ball he’s going to make a play for himself and his teammates. He’s being very decisive with his moves, he’s finishing strong and really leading us on the offensive end.”
The difference has been Ross’s on-court location. With Ohio State lacking scorers for virtually every square inch of the floor, Ross has moseyed his way into the lane. His six-game outbreak has coincided with a move to abuse smallish defenders, leading to just two three-pointers.
It’s a role reversal of sorts. As recently as this season, many believed Ross would be a dynamic jump shooter who could drains 3s with regularity. He might have the top percentage on the team, but it’s well under 40 percent. So the 6-foot-9 Ross is now growing into his role as a driver, colliding into the defense and not shying away from contact.
“Teams started defending us a lot of differently,” Ross said. “They tried to run me off the three-point line. It was able to open up the driving lanes for me, and I’ve been able to execute.”
Hesitant to play down low early in his career, Ross has embraced his new role that includes dirty work. Depending on Ross for points is no surprise. But his level of production hasn’t always been balanced.
The inconsistency stunted Ross early in the season and ultimately resulting in time spent on the bench. Looking back, he now believes it contributed to a newfound patience.
In the season’s first five games, Ross scored 14, 10, 0, 4 and 3 points. The problems quickly turned mental, which is why Ross found himself sitting next to Matta. Then a month-long tear ensued. He averaged 18 points over a nine-game stretch, finally ridding himself of the pressures that accompanied him as the air to Deshaun Thomas’s scoring throne.
“It is what it is. We started out 15-0 and I picked it up during big ten play when we really needed it,” Ross said. “I think it was just me getting adjusted. It’s my first year starting. I hadn’t started a basketball game since my senior year of high school. It was a way for me to adjust to things.”
Ross came to Ohio State as a possible one-and-done player. Academics got in the way of his freshman year, which set back his progress and played a role in Ross not starting as a sophomore. Year 3 in Columbus has been much more kind, though Ross still doesn’t appear on many draft boards.
Still, he’s averaging a team-high 15.4 points per game and 6.1 rebounds. Ohio State will need lots of points from Ross – and quality defense – if it’s to March 2014 memorable. During the Buckeyes’ late-season run of nine wins in 13 games, Ross and defense have been the predominant factor.
It was most evident when Ohio State overcame an 18-point second-half deficit to beat Nebraska. Ross scored 15 points in the 14-minute sprint to the finish line, while the Buckeyes also employed a suffocating full-court press that turned the Huskers into mush.
“[Ross] has been preparing every night. He knows his offensive game,” junior center Amir Williams said. “He’s taking it very seriously. We all want to win right now. We want to continue to play on in March and get to the national championship. He realizes how important it is for our team to step up on the offensive end. He’s been doing a great job of leading us.”
There’s a method to the Buckeyes’ Madness.