Buckeyes return home to face improved Iowa
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - A lot of teams would love to have the leading scorer in their conference.
No. 14 Ohio State has Deshaun Thomas, averaging 23.2 points in conference play to lead the Big Ten by a wide margin.
The problem for the Buckeyes, who have had difficulty gaining much traction since conference play began, is that they are still on the lookout for somebody to pick up the points left after Thomas gets his allotment.
"Other teams have that second- or third-leading scorer," Thomas said Monday as the Buckeyes (13-4, 3-2) went through their final paces before hosting Iowa (13-5, 2-3) on Tuesday night. "With the offense we've got, anybody can score. Everybody thinks it's a play running for me, but it's not. In our offense, it's for everybody to get a shot off."
The thing is, they often do not. Or, at least they don't make it if they do get a shot.
No Ohio State player other than Thomas is averaging more than 8.0 points a game in conference play. So opposing defenses can concentrate on him and take their chances that even a wide-open teammate may not hurt them.
"With the offenses that we run, there's definitely multiple options and multiple places for different guys to score," said point guard Aaron Craft, who is one of three starters not shooting even 40.0 percent from the field in conference action. "At times we don't look at those options. We sort of focus on one part of the play - and that's part of the problem."
A prime example came Saturday when Thomas, despite heavy pressure from No. 13 Michigan State, scored 28 points - but the rest of the team matched him with 28 in a 59-56 loss.
Coach Thad Matta, whose new Ohio State contract was announced earlier on Monday, said it was mandatory that the Buckeyes get their points by picking their spots and taking advantage of all the attention that Thomas gets.
"It's probably going to lend itself to really playing off each other," he said. "That's one of the things that we have to continue to do is to play off of each other, making simpler plays, and kind of letting things unfold."
Craft and his fellow point guard, Shannon Scott, have not established themselves as perimeter shooters that opposing teams need to respect. Likewise, the Buckeyes aren't getting much on a consistent basis from guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. or wings Sam Thompson and LaQuinton Ross.
Another glaring shortcoming has been the lack of production from the post position, where Amir Williams, Evan Ravenel and Trey McDonald are combining for only 11.2 points and 7.6 rebounds a game in the Big Ten.
Thomas, for his part, isn't just chucking up shots. He has done a much better job of finding open players when he's being double-teamed. He believes the problem can be corrected.
"I have faith in my guys," he said. "There are guys on this team who are capable of scoring in double digits every night. We just have to be patient within our offense and run with great pace. Anybody can be that second scorer."
Craft said that perhaps the scoring load can be distributed across several other players instead of just having a single, solid No. 2 scorer.
"It doesn't necessarily have to be one of us. I think we have a lot of guys who are capable and who have shown that they're capable throughout this year," he said. "It's just finding more consistency and not having someone score a lot and then not score much the next night. And hopefully DT can continue to do what he's doing and we'll be in business."
Ohio State has won seven straight against Iowa, taking the last two meetings by a combined 51 points.
The Hawkeyes, though, have won their past two conference games after opening Big Ten play with losses to Indiana, Michigan and Michigan State. Aaron White had 17 points in a 70-50 win at Northwestern on Jan. 13, then equaled that total - hitting 13 of 15 free throws - in a 70-66 victory over Wisconsin on Saturday.
Now the Ohio native will get his first chance to play in his home state.
"I am excited to go back home," White told the school's official website. "It's a good challenge for us. ... Any road game in this league is going to be tough."
Iowa has lost 19 of its last 20 road games against ranked opponents.
One particularly weak spot for the Hawkeyes heading into this meeting is 3-point shooting. Iowa is shooting a woeful 20.8 percent from beyond the arc in its last six games.
To White, though, this one will come down to the Hawkeyes' ability to compete on the other end.
"It's important to play like we did at Northwestern," White said. "To really take them out of their stuff, but defense on the road is totally different than defense at home.
"It's going to be loud. We have to stay locked into the scouting report because they have a great scorer in Thomas and a great team."