As soon as LaQuinton Ross started heating up, the rest of the Ohio State team followed suit.
Ross and the third-ranked Buckeyes look to continue their hot shooting when they host Bryant in the Gotham Classic on Wednesday night.
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Ohio State (8-0) has been stellar defensively, allowing an average of 54.5 points to rank third nationally while holding opponents to 37.1 percent from the field and 22.0 percent from 3-point range.
The Buckeyes’ effort at the other end of the floor through their first five contests was a different story, though, as they hit just 41.8 percent of their shots. Ross especially struggled, averaging 6.2 points while shooting 22.7 percent.
The junior forward has been much better over his last three and has shot 62.9 percent – including 8 of 15 from 3-point range – while averaging 20.0 points. Ross, the reigning Big Ten player of the week, scored a career-best 23 in Saturday’s 74-56 win over Central Connecticut State.
Ohio State is shooting 58.1 percent in the past three games while averaging 83.0 points, compared to 69.6 in the first five.
“I knew I was going to come around eventually,” Ross said after hitting 9 of 13 from the field and grabbing six rebounds. “I’ve been playing basketball all my life. Everybody goes through situations, struggles, out there on the court. It was just something I had to get through. I knew I would get through it eventually.”
Buckeyes guards Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Aaron Craft also have shot extremely well in the past three games, combining to hit 65.0 percent (26 of 40).
Smith added 17 points Saturday, but CCSU shot 46.0 percent and coach Thad Matta wasn’t at all impressed with his club’s overall effort.
“Honestly, I said this is one we have to learn from it, but by the same token you have to wash it down the drain in the shower,” Matta said. “We must be a better basketball team (in our next game) than we were (Saturday).
“We were not clicking on all cylinders for 40 minutes like we needed to be.”
The Buckeyes look to improve in their first matchup of the Gotham Classic, a round-robin event culminating at Madison Square Garden. After facing Bryant, they’ll host North Dakota State on Saturday and Delaware next Wednesday before playing Notre Dame on Dec. 21 in New York.
The Bulldogs (6-4) of the Northeast Conference have lost their first two games in this event, falling 66-62 to NDSU on Saturday to snap their four-game winning streak before Monday’s 70-59 loss to Notre Dame.
Bryant gave the Fighting Irish a tough challenge, as they trailed by just four with less than two minutes to play. Senior Alex Francis played all 40 minutes and scored a team-high 17 points, just above his average of 16.3.
Leading scorer Dyami Starks, who averages 22.1 points, hit 4 of 8 from beyond the arc and scored 12.
Their last six opponents have shot only 39.3 percent, but the Bulldogs will face a much tougher test with an Ohio State team finding its groove.
Four Buckeyes average in double figures, including Smith (12.1 points per game), Ross (11.4), Craft (10.6) and Amir Williams (10.5).
Craft had a season-low two assists Saturday and has 570 for his career, needing 10 to pass Jamar Butler for first place on Ohio State’s all-time list.
This will be the first meeting between these schools.