Continuing To Contribute in Myriad Ways for Ohio State, Evan Mahaffey Posts His Best Offensive Performance This Season Against Miami (Ohio)

By Andy Anders on December 7, 2023 at 8:35 am
Evan Mahaffey
Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch/USA TODAY Network

The depth of Ohio State’s scoring against Miami (Ohio) was truly a magnificent sight, but hidden at the bottom of the six Buckeyes who scored in double figures is a player who struggled to find his offense with the team up until Wednesday.

Evan Mahaffey posted 10 points for Ohio State on 4-of-7 shooting during the Buckeyes' 84-64 win over the RedHawks, adding four rebounds, an assist, a block and two steals.

“I think with Evan, he’s just got to keep growing in some areas,” Holtmann said. “It’s good to see him finish a couple plays, for him, just to see him make a couple shots. But again, he can’t tie himself to that. The group he’s in typically has three or four scorers on the floor. He needs to be able to play off those guys and his effort needs to be a constant.”

The high 57.1% mark from the field is a welcome development from the Penn State transfer, regardless of the point producers he plays alongside.

Mahaffey was shooting just 22.6% through the Buckeyes’ first eight games, including a 0-for-5 ledger behind the arc. He shot a combined 3-for-23 across Ohio State’s last five contests.

But if he can enjoy efficient shooting nights like he had against Miami and couple it with the roles he’s been fulfilling for the team in other areas – ballhandling, passing and defense – it will be another weapon in a growing Ohio State arsenal as it enters Big Ten play.

“It felt great,” Mahaffey said. “I think not putting my head down is a big thing. Just keep working, just keep trying to contribute in other areas. I feel like those are some of the best things I do on the court, just contribute in different areas.”

It’s certainly not as though Mahaffey needs to be the go-to scorer for Ohio State.

Bruce Thornton, Roddy Gayle Jr. and Jamison Battle have all proven more than capable of racking up points when the Buckeyes’ starting lineup needs them, now averaging 18.7, 14.7 and 13.9 points per game, respectively. It’s just that when Mahaffey does get looks, it is of course better that he knocks them down.

Holtmann said that he liked Mahaffey’s shot selection against the RedHawks after stating on Tuesday that Mahaffey had been taking a few bad “walled-up” attempts in the post of late.

“He’s not strong enough right now if he goes up against a 6-7, 6-8 kid. He really needs to be able to use his quickness and length right now to get an angle and score vs. a walled-up finish,” Holtmann said. “I think overall he was pretty good with it (tonight).”

Mahaffey credited his improved shooting to a maintained belief in himself and the time he’d been putting into his craft.

“One of the biggest things within these last few games is just being constant in my faith,” Mahaffey said. “My faith in the Lord, but also within my game as well. I think sometimes I get in my head a lot. I know other players do too. But just being able to stay consistent in what I do, the work that I put in with my coaching staff, and knowing that eventually shots will fall.”

Another positive development in the contest for Mahaffey came when he hit his first 3-pointer of the year, a clean look off a pass from freshman forward Devin Royal. It was his sixth attempt from deep of the season as he finished 1-for-1 against Miami.

Mahaffey shot 33.3% from distance at Penn State last year, though the sample size wasn’t large as he took just 12 attempts, hitting four. Still, Holtmann and his staff want him taking those shots if they’re open.

“He’s working on it, time and space threes,” Holtmann said. “Not going to be a big part of what he does, but we want him to take them because I think he’s capable of making them. And you’ve got to remember, Evan’s a part of that sophomore class, so he’s a young kid who’s just going to be getting better and I would assume he’ll be taking more threes.”

Still, his primary role remains playing strong, versatile defense, giving the Buckeyes a ball-handling option on the wing – he was involved in some key press breaks down the stretch in Ohio State’s lone ranked win this campaign against then-No. 17 Alabama – and distributing the ball a bit.

On the year, Mahaffey is averaging 3.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.7 steals and 0.4 blocks per game.

“He’s such a good athlete and he’s got really good defensive instincts and he’s got a really good defensive IQ,” Holtmann said. “He has to get better in his ball-screen defense, and I think, in general, his details and his consistent effort can get better. He’s got great length, he’s a really good athlete, he sees things quickly and he has the ability to make plays defensively.”

That chameleonic ability to contribute in myriad ways was on full display in a 55-second stretch from 3:25 to 2:30 remaining in the first half against Miami. Mahaffey first came up with steals on back-to-back RedHawk possessions, feeding Zed Key for a transition dunk immediately after the latter swipe. He then blocked a shot on Miami’s next trip down the floor and capped it all off with a defensive rebound. 

“It just reflects how I can impact the game in different areas,” Mahaffey said. “When they recruited me, that was one of the big emphases they wanted me to bring to this team, being a little more (into) doing things. Getting a defensive stop but also being able to grab the rebound and push it too, find the open man. In that area I feel like I’m the most comfortable, just playing free and doing multiple things on the court.”

“He’s such a good athlete and he’s got really good defensive instincts and he’s got a really good defensive IQ.”– Chris Holtmann on Evan Mahaffey

Next for both Mahaffey and Ohio State is a trip to State College, Pennsylvania, to take on the Ohio native’s former team, Penn State. While there are some emotions involved in that trip for Mahaffey, he remains eager to face the Nittany Lions in what is the Buckeyes’ first true road game this year.

“I’m excited more than anything,” Mahaffey said. “They have a really good team. Obviously, I have a few former teammates on that team, so excited to play against them for sure, we were talking a little bit prior. Just excited to go up there and get a win, really. This is the first Big Ten road game, and we all know how hard it is to win in the Big Ten on the road.”

Tipoff for that contest is at 6 p.m. on Saturday, with the game set to be broadcast by Big Ten Network.

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