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Three Key Takeaways.
- And a Freshman Shall Lead Them. Much has been written and discussed about the underachievement of Ohio State’s last couple of senior classes — not only from a team but also from an individual standpoint. Players like Sam Thompson, Shannon Scott, Amir Williams and Lenzelle Smith (last year) have at times during their careers seemed capable of great things, but those flashes came all too infrequently to reasonably rely upon them. Even players like sophomore Marc Loving, who has at times shown such outstanding promise, has been intermittent in his production. With D’Angelo Russell taking much if not all of the offensive burden upon himself, it removes a lot of the pressure on those other players to feel like they have to be stars. That could be the right recipe for these Buckeyes as they look to make a run over the next two weeks.
- However, Ohio State’s Defense Must Stay Strong. The reason that the Buckeyes came into today’s game as a #10 seed this year was primarily because this is Thad Matta’s worst defensive unit since his 2009 group that lost in the opening round to Siena. Over the last five years, Ohio State has ranked among the top 16 defensive teams in America four times. And many of those very seniors already mentioned where a key part of it. True, Aaron Craft drove the success of several of those defenses, but players like Scott, Thompson and the others who remain aren’t chopped liver on that end of the floor. The point here is that the Buckeyes today held VCU to 38 percent from the field, which, when combined with the points that Russell put up, was enough to keep them close throughout. That defense will absolutely need to be humming on Saturday against Arizona, because you better believe that the Wildcats will send multiple long and lean bodies at Russell and force the other Buckeyes to make shots. A low-scoring affair is really the only shot Ohio State will have to get to the Sweet Sixteen, so the defense on the other end must come up big.
- VCU Loses Its Opener in Consecutive Years. And in disastrous fashion. Last year’s four-point play against Stephen F. Austin was worse, but Shaka Smart’s Rams will feel like they really let this one slip away. A pair of awful unforced turnovers on out-of-bounds plays gave Ohio State life down the stretch, and Smart’s decision to let his team play led to a reasonable but ultimately ineffective drive and look at the basket on the final play of regulation. Injuries of course were an issue with this year’s VCU squad, but there may also be a tinge of playing with the pressure of being the higher-seeded team involved here as well. It can cause really good teams to make questionable decisions in high-pressure situations.
Star of the Game: D’Angelo Russell. The Ohio State freshman was everything he has been hyped to be. He handled the ball for the majority of the Buckeyes’ possessions, and he just has a feel for the game at his age that can’t really be taught. He finished the game with 28 points on 10-of-20 shooting (4-of-7 threes) and six rebounds, but it seemed like whenever Ohio State was a play or two away from getting into trouble, he would make something happen. He finished off the game with two free throws to seal it.