Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
Hunched over the table at the front of the media room inside the Schottenstein Center Tuesday evening, LaQuinton Ross glanced at the box score resting beside the scarlet and gray microphone in front of him. The soft-spoken, often-reserved sophomore forward proceeded to whisper his thoughts about the statistics from the game Ohio State had just played to a pair of his teammates.
“I didn’t get that many opportunities,” Ross muttered to Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft, who were sitting to his left, waiting to answer questions from the press.
Most nights, Ross would likely have been talking about his playing time, or lack thereof.
But that’s not what the lanky swingman was discussing with the Buckeyes’ junior leaders after OSU’s 58-49 defeat of Wisconsin. He was pointing out his four shot attempts.
While Ross’ ability to make plays was limited, to an extent, by the Badgers’ defense, his playing time wasn’t.
After receiving inconsistent minutes for most of the season, and having a relatively short leash from coach Thad Matta when he did enter a game, Ross was on the court Tuesday for numerous long stretches. The 20 minutes he played against Wisconsin tie a personal best in a Big Ten game this season. More so, Ross was on the floor for a 10-plus minute stretch in the first half – another career high – and received critical minutes in the waning moments of the close contest.
Ross didn’t light up the box score, but he responded to an increase in playing time with one of his most efficient games of the season.
Of the four shots he took, three sunk through the net. He made two 3-pointers – the most he’s made in a conference game this season – while adding two rebounds, an assist and a steal.
“Tonight coach gave me the minutes so I had to step up,” Ross said.
Nearly all of Ross’ plays came at significant junctures.
His first 3-pointer gave OSU a two-point lead. His scooping layup at the eight-minute mark in the first half broke an 11-11 tie. His second three was part of a 15-0 run by OSU in the second half that all but won the Buckeyes the game.
No. 11 OSU has been in search of a secondary offensive option to Thomas all season long. The Buckeyes (16-4, 6-2 Big Ten) probably still don’t have a concrete solution to that problem, but Ross proved he could be a possible answer against Wisconsin.
“Him coming off the bench, hitting big shots, it’s another piece to the puzzle,” said Thomas, who led OSU with 25 points Tuesday. “It helps the team a lot by him coming in and producing the way he (did).”
Ross wasn’t just a key factor on the offensive end, though. Matta has said Ross can be a defensive liability, which has kept him on the bench in other games. That wasn’t the case against Wisconsin.
Late in the second half, Ross was guarding Ryan Evans. The Badger redshirt senior drove to the basket and had a look for a layup that would’ve cut OSU’s lead to two points. But Ross recovered, slapped the ball out of Evans’ hands and off the Wisconsin forward’s leg, forcing a turnover.
Craft, a bulldog-type defender known in the college basketball world for his ability to get steals, was the first to congratulate Ross on the play. He sprinted over to Ross and slapped hands with the sophomore forward while yelling out, “That a boy!”
“(I know) it’s not just about scoring. You have to do stuff on the other end. That’s what this team is known for,” Ross said.
So, what’s the reason for an increase in key minutes, and performance, from the once highly coveted recruit from Mississippi? Ross and his coach agree Ross is hearing what his coach is preaching.
“I think the biggest (area I’ve grown in) is listening,” said Ross, who was ineligible for the first month and a half of last season due to academics and only played 31 total minutes in Big Ten games in 2012. “Beginning of the year last year I was a little rebellious against stuff. I wasn’t playing so I was like, ‘You can’t tell me nothing.'”
Ross said he has grown since last year and is continuing to evolve as a player on and off the court this season.
“I see it was hurting me. Now, I’m taking it all in this year and doing what I have to do for my teammates,” Ross said.
At 6-2 in the conference, OSU is very much in the race for a fourth-straight Big Ten regular season title. After facing Nebraska Saturday, the Buckeyes are set to travel to No. 1 Michigan Tuesday before facing No. 3 Indiana at home Feb. 10.
That two-game stretch could determine whether the Buckeyes stay alive in the Big Ten hunt. Will Ross continue to receive big minutes in big-time moments?
Matta said he doesn’t see why not.
“It helps (his confidence) from the standpoint of being in there in critical junctions of the game. As he said, I don’t think I could have said it better than he said it, he’s listening (now),” Matta said.
OSU is set to take on Nebraska (11-11, 2-7 Big Ten) Saturday at 7 p.m.