Late Game Lockdowns Propel Buckeyes

By Chris Lauderback on February 10, 2009 at 7:00 am
Turner, Buford complete Hoffarber sandwichTurner's 2.0 steals per game leads the Buckeyes (AP: T. Gilliam)

At first glance, it might appear Ohio State's current four game winning streak is more about what the offense is doing led by Evan Turner and Wil Buford but a deeper dive indicates late game defense is just as responsible for vaulting the Buckeyes from 3-4 in conference play to a 7-4 mark, good for second place in the standings.

This notion is even more surprising when you consider Ohio State has allowed the last four opponents to shoot a combined 49% from the floor against a season FG% percentage defense average of 40.2% but the last five minutes of each game during the winning streak show the Buckeye zone has come up large:

The Final Five Minutes...
Opp Opp FG Opp FG% Opp TO OSU TO Opp Pts OSU Pts Pts +/-
Mich 3/7 43% 5 1 6 15 +9
Ind 4/12 33% 1 3 13 15 +2
Pur 2/6 33% 0 0 8 16 +8
Minn 4/12 33% 2 2 9 11 +2
TOTAL 13/37 35% 8 6 36 57 +21

As shown, Ohio State held the four teams combined to 35% shooting helping generate a +21 point differential down the stretch. Certainly the last five minutes of the Michigan and Indiana games weren't overly crucial but the overtime session against Purdue and the closing minutes versus Minnesota with OSU nursing a 53-49 lead were big minutes and an often maligned zone strategy paid off.

The Boilers attempted just two field goals during overtime (0/3 threes) against the zone while Minnesota did manage to launch 12 shots in the final 3:46 but made only four (1/5 threes) against a combo of the regular match up zone and a box and one with Buford and Diebler taking turns tracking a red hot Blake Hoffarber.

I'm not sure what percentage of this success I think is smoke and mirrors or just good fortune but I'll take the results considering the current winning streak finds the Buckeyes in great position to earn their dance card.

I do think Buford's improvement recognizing rotation responsibilities has helped and Diebler has increased his awareness of the need to contribute in other areas as evidenced by his seven steals during the winning streak.

No matter how you slice it, the numbers are pretty significant considering arguably the best defender on the roster has missed the last 15 games leaving a true freshman in his wake and an average to above average defensive guard transferred 12 games ago reducing the rotation to seven guys.

So, what's your take? Are subtle nuances like subbing Hill for Simmons at the top of the zone or sparingly employing a 3/4 court press to preserve energy or Buford improving as a defender influencing the stats? Maybe the Buckeyes are simply turning up the intensity? Or could it be blink luck or a combo of these and other factors?