At any level of basketball, when a team needs a key bucket or big play down the stretch, it typically gets the ball to its best player and lets him take the lead to victory.
Such a leader is vital at both ends of the floor, having the ability to come up with the key defensive play or knock down a potential game-winner.
But what happens when your go-to guy becomes such a liability that he might not be the best option to be on the floor come crunch time?
Welcome to the dilemma that is Ohio State junior forward LaQuinton Ross.
Ross led all Buckeyes with 22 points and seven rebounds in an 84-74 loss to then-No. 20 Iowa, but his five turnovers and other mental errors cost OSU, who dropped from No. 3 to No. 11 after back-to-back losses, when it needed him most.
“Obviously we need LaQuinton to play well. He had the two fouls on rebounds where he shoved the guy,” coach Thad Matta said following the loss to the Hawkeyes. “We needed him to take and make some big shots, handle the ball a little bit better.”
With his team clinging to a 65-64 lead with 5:05 to play, Ross air mailed a 3-pointer and turned the ball over on consecutive possessions.
Iowa took the lead back for good and send OSU to its first loss at the Schottenstein Center since Feb. 10, 2013 against then-No. 1 Indiana.
Senior guard Aaron Craft said after the loss that a reason for the team’s offensive struggles at times is because the guys on the floor might not all be on the same page.
“We’re at our best when we’re connected. You can hear that when we’re talking, you can see that on offense and for stretches in both these past two games we haven’t been connected,” Craft said. “We’ve had stretches where we have been. It’s very easy to see when you go back and watch the film, the times when we are and the times when we aren’t. We really have to minimize the times that we aren’t.”
Ross said his main concern is making sure he’s in position to score.
“I try to do what I can to help the team win. That’s it,” Ross said after the loss. “Scoring is what I do to help contribute to this team, so that’s what I try to do.”
In OSU’s game prior to Iowa — a 72-68 overtime loss at the hands of then No. 5 Michigan State — Ross was nowhere to be found, scoring just five points and playing the least minutes of any of the five starters.
It’s clear Ross is a scorer (he leads the team with an averaage 13.6 points per game), but Matta’s teams are predicated on defense, and in a game like the one against the Spartans when OSU fell behind 55-38 with eight minutes to play, defensive stops are needed. Ross, however, said missing a part of the comeback against MSU was a motivator to improve.
“I don’t think it was because I watched my teammates out there. I think (freshman forward) Marc (Loving) did a great job at the end of the game. Seeing him put in work like that as a freshman, that was good to see,” Ross said. “They made a huge comeback at the end of the game, so I didn’t feel no type of way about sitting out at the end of that game. Today I think I wanted to redeem myself from last game. It was a bad performance, (and) I think any player would want to do that if they came in off a bad game.”
The junior from Jackson, Miss., has scored in double figures 12 times this season, but in the remaining five, he is averaging a meager 4.2 points. That could raise questions about OSU’s supposed top scoring threat being inconsistent. It’s not just about one guy though, Matta said.
“We have to have a certain level of consistency in everything that we’re doing — offensively, defensively, transition,” Matta said. “Those are things that across the board, not just LaQuinton, everybody has to do your job and do it with great energy and great focus on making everybody on the floor around you better.”
Whether it’s Ross, the coaches or the team as a whole, the Buckeyes need to get it figured out quickly, with a Thursday visit to Minnesota (13-4, 2-2) looming.
“It doesn’t get any easier for us. We go on the road here starting on Thursday,” Craft said. “A lot to be learned from this game.”
Tipoff between the Buckeyes and Golden Gophers is set for 9 p.m.