Quick OSU backcourt causing havoc
CHICAGO — Ohio State probably has the best point guard still playing in the Big Ten tournament.
It certainly has two point guards who are collectively better than anybody else's one — or two. And it's a lineup with both Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott on the floor that's helping the Buckeyes play their best basketball of the season right now.
Friday night, the No. 2 seed Buckeyes turned their quarterfinal game into a 71-50 rout of Nebraska and won their sixth straight because they were a little faster and a little better than the No. 10 seeded Cornhuskers, and because Craft and Scott made sure just about everybody in Ohio State's rotation got involved.
"The Ohio State factor was a bigger factor than anything," Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. "Those guys are really quick. They put a lot of pressure on you."
Deshaun Thomas scored 19 points and had had a game-high nine rebounds, and Sam Thompson also scored 19, setting career-highs for points and with three 3-pointers. Eight Buckeyes scored, 11 played and Nebraska just couldn't keep pace.
Craft had seven points, eight assists and two steals in 30 minutes. Scott had seven points, four assists and two steals. Ohio State had assists on 20 of its 26 baskets, and Nebraska had 15 turnovers.
Nebraska wasn't going to go without a fight, but Nebraska was going to go. After the Buckeyes started the game down 15-6 and coach Thad Matta used an early time out to bench Thomas and read all of his players a mini-riot act, reality set in.
"Our body language wasn't good," Matta said. "Guys were complaining and you know, we're not good enough to play like that."
The timeout came with the Buckeyes trailing 9-4. Shortly thereafter, Craft started making steals. Scott came in and hit jumpers on back-to-back possessions. The game was too fast, and over time it became too much for Nebraska.
"After that first four minutes where they were kind of shooting any shot they wanted and knocking any shot down, we just went back to playing Ohio State defense," Craft said. "That's when we are at our best. When we can keep guys in front us to make them make more decisions than they are used to, I think that's when guys tend to make poor decisions, kind of throw bad passes and things like that. That always helps."
Matta said he's thinking of Scott right now as a starter, even if Scott isn't being introduced as part of the starting five, and that his emergence is one of the biggest reasons the Buckeyes have been rolling in March.
"He's really settled into that position here lately," Matta said. "And you know, he has a great understanding of what he needs to do when he comes into the basketball game. I think one of the biggest things I've seen with Shannon is just his communication skills in terms of when he comes in, he feels like he's running the team.
"I couldn't be happier with how he's playing right now."
The Buckeyes take their new backcourt and their momentum into Saturday's 4 p.m. ET semifinals against Michigan State, which rallied to beat Iowa on Friday night.
The teams split the regular-season series. In the Buckeyes' 68-60 win in Columbus on Feb. 24, Craft took over in the second half and finished with a game-high 21 points. He held Michigan State's Keith Appling to three points on 1 of 6 shooting and three turnovers.