Shooting woes have Buckeyes concerned

For the Buckeyes, an issue has become a problem and it is working its way toward being a full-blown crisis.

Their Feb. 18th trip to Ann Arbor produced a second Big Ten loss in a three-game stretch, dropped the Buckeyes out of first place in the league, and might have zapped the confidence from a group most had predicted would win another Big Ten title on its way to the Final Four.

“I am worried, as a team,” forward Deshaun Thomas said after the Buckeyes never led against the Wolverines and dropped a 56-51 decision to their rivals.

“We can’t afford to lose right now, at this stage, in February. We want to win. We want to make history. That’s what we’re trying to do. But we can’t do that unless we make shots.”

After shooting poorly in a home loss to Michigan State, the Buckeyes were 0-for-9 from behind the arc in the first half against Michigan and only Thomas connected on a 3-pointer during the game. Ohio State shoots just 32.6 percent from outside the arc this season, after hitting more than 42 percent last year.

With four conference games left to play, the Buckeyes will need some help to win an outright Big Ten championship, but Sullinger said Ohio State can’t afford to concern itself with the big picture stuff right now. If the shooting blight continues, this won’t end well.

“Honestly, at this point we really don’t know what our future holds if we keep playing like this,” center/forward Jared Sullinger said. “There are times when you don’t make shots and sometimes you grind out those wins. In this case, we weren’t making shots so we stopped playing defense. We didn’t shoot any shots with confidence.”

Minus its confidence and the ability to make shots, Ohio State has far greater concerns heading into the final two weeks of Big Ten play. The defending conference champion needs a quick recovery and a sustained revival to emerge with another title.

NOTES, QUOTES

Thomas picks up first double-double

–F Deshaun Thomas had his first career double-double with 25 points and 13 rebounds in the Feb. 18 loss at Michigan.

–G William Buford scored just six points as Ohio State fell to rival Michigan in Ann Arbor on Feb. 18. Buford went just 3-of-12 from the field.

–Before he hit three triples in the second half against Michigan, Ohio State F Deshaun Thomas had made only 5-of-25 from outside the arc over the previous eight games.

–In their clumsy Feb. 18 road loss at Michigan, the Buckeyes got zero points from their bench.

BY THE NUMBERS: 20 — The Buckeyes scored just 20 points in the first half of their Feb. 18 loss to Michigan, marking Ohio State’s lowest output of the season for an opening half.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I can’t even think about the conference race right now. We just have to get back to Columbus and get back to work. We have a lot to fix and I wouldn’t be surprised if we spent the entire practice tomorrow working on shooting.” — Ohio State C/F Jared Sullinger after his team’s dismal shooting performance in a Feb. 18 loss to Michigan.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK’S GAMES:

–vs. Illinois, Feb. 21

KEY MATCHUPS: The Buckeyes are in some sort of self-imposed funk after losing two of their last three games and they will welcome an Illinois team that has lost five straight games and eight of its last nine. The Illini stunned Ohio State back on Jan. 10, winning by a 79-74 score, but there has been just one victory in the five weeks since then. Illinois G Brandon Paul exploded for 43 points in that January game, and the Buckeyes will use pressure out front to keep Paul in modest numbers this time. Talented 7-foot C Meyers Leonard has struggled while his team has been in its current swoon, but the Buckeyes need to make sure he does not have a recovery game against them.

–vs. Wisconsin, Feb. 26

KEY MATCHUPS: The Badgers are led by the physical and assertive play of senior G Jordan Taylor, who averages around 15 points per game. Taylor’s matchup with Ohio State sophomore PG Aaron Craft will go a long way toward determining which team prevails in this game. Also watch for the Wisconsin defensive alignment against Ohio State C/F Jared Sullinger. In the first meeting between these two teams about three weeks ago, the Badgers tried to play Sullinger straight up, and Sullinger scored 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in a 58-52 win by the Buckeyes.

FUTURES MARKET: Given their current shooting woes, the Buckeyes might be considering some immediate help from their seldom-used bench. Ohio State has long-range shooting expert F LaQuinton Ross on hand, but he has played very little after getting his academic matters cleared up by the NCAA in late December. G Jordan Sibert is another possible option, but both he and Ross have not left the Ohio State bench in most of the recent Big Ten games. Ross and Sibert are gifted scorers, and that was evident when Ohio State pursued them as recruits, but where they might fit in with the Buckeyes’ plans to remedy their shooting troubles is not certain. It would be difficult to picture Ohio State being able to keep both Ross and Sibert around long-term, if their roles don’t evolve fairly quickly.

PLAYER NOTES

–C/F Jared Sullinger had eight rebounds in the Feb. 18 loss to Michigan, pushing him past the 600 mark for his career with 606 rebounds.

–F Deshaun Thomas scored 25 points against Michigan in Ohio State’s 56-51 loss to the Wolverines, marking the 23rd double-figure scoring game for Thomas in the Buckeyes’ 27 games to date.

–Senior G William Buford, over his four most recent games, scored 29 points, four points, 24 points and then six points, with the latter coming in the Feb. 18 loss at Michigan.