Behind Turnover Creation and Fast Pace, Ohio State Finds 22-2 Edge in Fast Break Points During Dominant Win Over Michigan

By Andy Anders on March 4, 2024 at 8:35 am
Dale Bonner

There were no 1980s-themed dance parties in Value City Arena on Sunday, but Ohio State still did a lot of running, man.

The Buckeyes dashed past Michigan in transition, racking up a 22-2 advantage in fast break points during their dominant 84-61 win. 

“I felt like our guards and our guys who we want to rebound and push it, I thought they played with great pace,” interim head coach Jake Diebler said. “Part of playing with pace is everybody has to get out and run, too. Certainly our turnovers helped with that, we were able to get some numbers advantages because of the turnovers we forced.”

For a team that has had no shortage of struggles generating fast-paced points and also no shortage of struggles on the defensive end, to force 18 Michigan turnovers and lap the Wolverines 11 times in fast break scoring has to provide Ohio State some confidence with one game remaining before the Big Ten Tournament.

“It makes our offense a lot easier when we get transition buckets,” senior guard Dale Bonner said. “I would say we don’t have to work as hard (on offense) when we get stops on defense. Just all buy in as a collective, it makes our jobs easy.”

Entering Sunday’s contest Ohio State averaged just 5.8 fast break points per game, 333rd out of college basketball’s 362 teams. Accounting for pace of play doesn’t make things look any better for the Buckeyes, as they were also 332nd in fast break points per 100 possessions.

Those numbers started improving a bit in the past few weeks for Ohio State. With Diebler emphasizing a high pace and urgency, the Buckeyes averaged 9.3 fast break points per game in his first four contests as interim coach, including 11-point outings against Minnesota and Nebraska.

“Our guys are running their lanes hard, they’re running the floor hard, they’re pushing the ball hard,” Diebler said. “We’ve been working on that, that’s the urgency side. We’ve talked about playing with urgency, we’ve talked about the defense, that’s part of the offensive urgency that we need to operate with on a consistent basis.”

No stretch made that urgency more apparent than the 14-0 Ohio State run that made the team’s tilt with Michigan a 76-51 foregone conclusion with 3:42 to play.

The final seven points of the jaunt all came on the fast break. Point guard Bruce Thornton hauled in a defensive rebound and pushed the pace – as Diebler said he wants his guards to do when they grab a board – to find freshman forward Devin Royal in transition for a dunk and a crowd-wide “Raise the Roof” celebration.

On Michigan’s next possession, Bonner picked the pocket of Michigan guard Nimari Burnett and ran away for an easy layup. One free throw from Bonner and two from freshman guard Scotty Middleton accounted for the other three fastbreak points in the stint.

“We were getting stops on defense and just getting out and running,” Bonner said. “Just reading the defense, what they gave us and playing to the best of our abilities.”

In total, the Buckeyes collected 14 steals and scored 27 points off of Michigan turnovers. Those are the types of numbers that make for easy transition offense.

“I’ve said this, it is hard in this league, with the coaching in this league and the experience in this league, it’s hard to score over and over again in the halfcourt,” Diebler said. “You’ve got to try to create mismatches with pace, you’ve got to try to get the ball ahead of the defense at times and our guys have embraced that.”

Out of Ohio State’s 22 fast break points, 19 came in the second half. But for Diebler’s talk about needing to get out and run to create mismatches, the Buckeyes were plenty dominant in their halfcourt sets too during the final 20 minutes. A team doesn’t shoot 71.4% from the field and gobble up 52 points in one half of play if that’s not the case.

“Being connected, I think that’s the biggest thing,” Diebler said of the offensive outpouring. “Being connected, guys playing to their strengths. But every huddle that we break is family, and the connection that our guys have is really special.”

“With the coaching in this league and the experience in this league, it’s hard to score over and over again in the halfcourt. You’ve got to try to create mismatches with pace.”– Jake Diebler on Ohio State's transition offense

Now Ohio State will hope to find further high-powered offense as it hits the road to Rutgers for its final regular season game on March 10. A win will secure a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament for the Buckeyes, which just snapped their program-worst 17-game road losing streak on Feb. 25 at Michigan State.

It will also be a must-win game if Ohio State wants a shot at an at-large NCAA Tournament bid.

“Beating your rival at any point in the season is big,” Diebler said. “But we have to turn the page and we’ve gotta focus on Rutgers. They’re a really good team.”

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