As the old English proverb goes, the darkest hour is always before the dawn, and for Ohio State men’s basketball junior forward LaQuinton Ross, dawn might have finally broken.
After struggling through OSU’s first five games, Ross put together his most impressive performance of the young season during a 99-64 win against North Florida Friday, scoring 17 points — a season high — and grabbing eight rebounds.
It was also Ross’ best outing shooting the ball so far this year, going 6-9 from the floor, including hitting his first four shots.
North Florida coach Matthew Driscoll, who recruited Ross before he committed to OSU, said he felt early on that Ross was going to have a big day.
“He hit that first (3-pointer) in the corner and I started thinking, ‘Oh Lord, here we go,’” Driscoll said after the game.
Ross’ big day came on the heels of his worst shooting stretch as a Buckeye. Over the previous three games Ross shot a combined 2-20, averaging just over two points per games in the span.
OSU coach Thad Matta said the poor stretch of games for Ross was big in boosting his performance against North Florida.
“I think LaQuinton got into a little bit of a groove, and he and I talked there at the end of the game and I just said, ‘Hey look we can’t make shots for you, we can’t think for you out on the court. We’re going to put you in positions where you can be successful,’” Matta said. “And I think he was humbled a bit how he shot the ball the last few games, to his credit it was great to see the ball go in for him.”
Ross has started in place of Deshaun Thomas, who left to play professional basketball after last season, and was expected to come in and have a big season for the No. 7 Buckeyes (6-0, 0-0).
But so far the Jackson, Miss., native hasn’t lived up to expectations, only averaging eight points and five rebounds per game.
Matta said the position Ross plays is one that really needs to be successful for the Buckeyes this year, but that he is hopeful this could be a sign of things to come.
“We need that position to produce,” Matta said. “He and (freshman forward) Marc Loving had shot I think 5-25 from three and hopefully this boosts his stats a little bit. He was a little bit quicker to the ball and it seemed like he was more engaged than he’s been. You’ve got to keep the focus on what you can control and I think he did that.”
Driscoll said he thought Ross seemed dialed in and ready to play, even before the game.
“I did notice a difference in him today,” Driscoll said. “When I saw him this morning in shoot around, I really thought he had a better spirit about himself … he looked like he was really in a good place on the floor at shoot around. Then when I saw him out on the floor before the game, it looked like he was locked in and I think sometimes when you watch him on tape, and maybe I’m wrong, it looks like he might not be locked in and he may not be sure what his role is.”
Senior guard Aaron Craft said getting Ross — who wasn’t made available for comment after his big night — into the right mindset is something that he does on his own.
“LaQuinton’s a competitor. He’s the first one to tell himself he hasn’t been playing great and we didn’t have to really get on him,” Craft said. “He took that on himself to come out in practice and do whatever he needed to do, just really try to find that role and he did that. He came into practice and had a couple great ones and usually, when we have guys practice well, it carries over really well to the game and we saw that today.”
Ross will hope to build on his improved shooting performance when the Buckeyes host the Maryland Terrapins (6-2, 0-0) in the annual ACC Big Ten Challenge. Tip off is scheduled for Wednesday at 7 p.m.