As former Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant once said: “Offense sells tickets. Defense wins championships.”
If that is to be believed, then the No. 3 Ohio State men’s basketball team is a lock for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament this season.
A year after losing one of the most prolific scorers in Buckeye basketball history, forward Deshaun Thomas, to the 2013 NBA Draft, the Buckeyes have built a winning start to this season on defense.
Despite falling in their most recent game, a 72-68 defeat in overtime against No. 5 Michigan State in East Lansing, Mich., the Buckeyes are still allowing only an even 56 points per game. The 72 put up by the Spartans was the highest total against OSU this season.
The Spartans struggled at times against OSU’s defense, turning over the ball over 17 times. After the game, MSU coach Tom Izzo was complimentary of the Buckeye defense.
“Everybody knows they’re the best defensive team in the country,” Izzo said. “Everybody knows those guards are leading the country in steals. They get after you. You just have to man up.”
Two of OSU’s starting guards, senior Aaron Craft and junior Shannon Scott, are in the top 35 in the country in steals per game, with Craft tied for 20th.
Scott, who tallied three steals against the Spartans, has been improving consistently on defense despite still making mistakes, OSU coach Thad Matta said.
“He got out of position one time and they made us pay for it, but Shannon is quick,” Matta said after the game Tuesday. “He is difficult to guard and he hit some big free throws, some big shots down the stretch.”
The 56 points per game is best in the Big Ten, with second place and No. 4-ranked Wisconsin allowing 60.5 a contest.
OSU freshman forward Marc Loving said Dec. 17 that having such a strong defensive team makes every practice tougher than the games.
“The game’s are a lot easier compared to practice … we have one of the best defense in the country,” Loving said. “So when we practice with great defenders like (senior guard) Lenzelle (Smith Jr.), Aaron (Craft) and (junior forward) Sam (Thompson) … they’re lock down defenders so the game will just be 10 times easier when you get on the court.”
Since Big Ten play began, the Buckeyes are allowing 64.7 points per game, but their defense continues to impress.
Nebraska coach Tim Miles said after his team lost to OSU, 84-53, Jan. 4 that it’s hard to get things going against such a talented defensive team.
“Ohio State’s really good … their defensive quickness really causes problems. They have the ability to switch a lot of things,” Miles said.
Before the Big Ten opener against Purdue, Scott said the team is enjoying the way it plays defense.
“I think as a team standpoint, we’re taking pride in our defense now,” Scott said Dec. 30. “It’s not just me and Aaron … it’s everybody now. The fact that we’re all taking pride in that makes it a lot of fun for us to play defense and hopefully we can keep doing it in the Big Ten and keep going from there.”
The Buckeyes will need a stout defensive performance in their next game to prevent a second consecutive loss. The 20th ranked Iowa Hawkeyes (12-3, 1-1) are scheduled to visit Columbus to take on the Buckeyes, and come in sporting the conference’s top offense, scoring an average 86.1 points per game.
Scott said Dec. 13 the goal for the Buckeyes is to make teams fear playing against the defense.
“Coach Matta talks about it a lot, about every game, that we’re the best defense in the country,” Scott said. “We really want to have that in our heads that nobody should be able to score on us … From a viewpoint of other teams speaking of us as a problem on defense, we really want that to happen. We want them to be scared to play against us. As long as we can keep doing that, it’s going to make our game a lot easier.”
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