September 17, 2014

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Wanted: A second scorer for Ohio State basketball

COLUMBUS — 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 a game in conference play to lead the Big Ten by a wide margin.

The problem for the Buckeyes, who have had difficulty gaining much traction once conference play began, is that they are still on the lookout for somebody to pick up the points left after Thomas gets his allotment.

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“Other teams have that second- or third-leading scorer,” Thomas said Monday as the Buckeyes (13-4, 3-2 Big Ten) went through their final paces before hosting Iowa (13-5, 2-3) tonight. “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 don’t. Or, at least they don’t make it if they do get a shot.

No Ohio State player one other than Thomas is averaging more than eight 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 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 points in a 59-56 loss.

Coach Thad Matta, who got a new contract Monday, said it was mandatory that the Buckeyes get their points by picking their spots and taking advantage of all the attention 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.”