Yesterday was Shannon Scott’s 21st birthday.
His present was a heart-stopping comeback to beat Notre Dame in Madison Square Garden.
Lenzelle Smith Jr. has received a lion's share of the praise for the win after scoring nine points in the final minute. However, he wouldn't have been able to close the deficit without an assist from Scott.
Shannon Scott was instrumental to Ohio State’s comeback. Without him, Ohio State loses to Notre Dame. And yet, Scott is constantly overlooked.
Last night, Scott showed glimpses of how good he could be. He drained back-to-back three-pointers early, more than the rest of the team combined across the entire game. He led the team with seven assists against only one turnover, the only efficient player in a game where everyone else struggled with Notre Dame's zone defense.
When Ohio State was down eight with less than a minute to go, Scott facilitated a LaQuinton Ross layup to cut the lead to six. He stole the ball, and fed Smith for a layup; he stole the ball again, drew a foul and sank two pressure free throws to bring the Buckeyes within two. With some luck, good pressure from Scott, and a hot streak from Smith, Ohio State turned a near-certain defeat into victory.
Shannon Scott has not always been held in such high regard. For the last two seasons, fans pined for Trey Burke and resented that Scott’s scholarship sent Burke to Michigan.
Shannon Scott was Mr. Georgia Basketball coming out of Milton High School, the #12 point guard in the country, 53rd overall. Trey Burke was the Ohio Mr. Basketball coming out of Northland, the #26 point guard, 142nd overall. Going into their freshman year, Scott looked like the better prospect.
That changed with Scott's miserable freshman season. Scott shot 28% from the field, 22% from the free throw line, 5% from three point range. Meanwhile, Trey Burke tore it up at Michigan, becoming the Big Ten Freshman Player of the Year and showed an explosiveness everyone had missed.
Things turned around in Scott’s sophomore year, when he became passable on offense. He shot 41% from the field and 33% from three, while improving his free throw percentage to 62%. His minutes more than doubled, and he played in every game. His hallmark was his defense; he excelled at steals, and together with Aaron Craft the two were terrors on the perimeter.
His growth was measurable, but some in Columbus still had a wandering eye for Trey Burke. Burke improved even more than Scott did, adding some hesitation moves to make his offense unstoppable. He became an ballhawk on defense. He was the National Player of the Year and led Michigan to the NCAA finals, all while Scott had to look on after an embarrassing Elite 8 loss to Wichita State. Burke is in the NBA now, killing it for the Utah Jazz.
Can Shannon Scott be forgiven for not being Trey Burke? Last year, the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Bill Livingston drew a comparison asked before. Livingston put it well: “Scott has been blighted by comparisons he cannot win, and he has been discounted in games he clearly can help win.”
Rather than fighting the ghost of a pro player, Scott has been fighting for recognition on the team this season. At any given time, he is no better than the fourth option on offense. And yet, he scored in double figures against Notre Dame even when everyone else was stymied.
On defense, Craft has always been seen as the better player – never mind that according to Sports Illustrated's Luke Winn, Scott forces turnovers on 7.91% of opponents' possessions while Craft only does it 6.26% of the time. Craft overshadows Scott off the court, as he does with Rubik's cubes, his roomies, even in the locker room celebration:
Basketball has a unique chemistry. Even teams with superstars need glue guys to facilitate and hold defensive rotations together. Aaron Craft has long been seen as Ohio State's glue guy; Shannon Scott might be even more so than Craft.
In his junior year, Scott has improved again. His shooting average up to 45%. He’s a better rebounder, better at stealing the ball, better at scoring. His assists to turnovers ratio is down from 3:1 last year to 2:1 this year, understandable with no surefire scorer like Deshaun Thomas to pass to.
Scott is the team's distributor, and his play affects the rest of the offense. Amir Williams is a much better scorer this year, and a large part of that is Scott being able to feed him in the post consistently. Lenzelle Smith is open more often when Scott is a threat on offense, as is Amedeo Della Valle. Sam Thompson needs a passer for his highlight dunks. About the only person who doesn't need Scott to create offense is LaQuinton Ross, and when he struggles, almost all offense runs through Scott or Craft.
At this rate, Scott will have another solid season, return for his senior year, and leave a legacy as a fine player.
He won't be remembered like Craft will. Odds are, he’ll become the new Tony Stockman, another good Ohio State player who left few indelible memories.
But enough of the comparisons to other players. Shannon Scott is a 21-year-old man, and he gets to play on his own terms. His performance against Notre Dame last night shows how good he can be, whether or not people recognize it.