For most athletes, being relegated to the bench is a punishment. It is something that signifies failure to perform up to their coach’s standards.
But Ohio State men’s basketball’s Shannon Scott isn’t most players. After starting each of the Buckeyes’ first 21 games this season, the junior guard approached coach Thad Matta and asked to be taken out of the starting lineup.
“Shannon came to me and said, ‘Hey, coach, I wouldn’t mind coming off the bench.’ Kind of tells you what kind of kid he is,” Matta said after OSU’s 59-58 win against Wisconsin Feb. 1.
Scott “wanted to get Sam (Thompson) going a little bit,” with the junior forward replacing him in the starting lineup, Matta said.
Since the change was made, the No. 22 Buckeyes (19-5, 6-5), have rattled off three consecutive wins — two coming against ranked opponents on the road. But despite the switch being made to benefit Thompson, it has actually been Scott’s play that has taken off.
“I like the way Shannon’s playing right now,” Matta said Monday. “I think that he’s … I don’t know, things have kind of slowed down a little bit for him in his mind and he’s making great reads, he’s making great decisions and he’s just bringing a lot of intensity, a lot of energy onto the court. And he’s playing at the end of the game … nothing’s really changed.”
Going into the game against Wisconsin, Scott had been averaging 7.5 points per game and had only managed 19 total points in OSU’s previous five games. In the three games since, Scott has been averaging 9.7 points per game and hasn’t scored fewer than nine points in any game.
Before OSU took down Purdue 67-49 Friday, Scott said he has seen an improvement in his game with the added motivation of coming off the bench.
“I think I got my edge back a little bit. I know coming off the bench, (I’ve) gotta bring a spark to the team so I feel like now that’s my role,” Scott said. “And if I’m able to do that by being aggressive, I gotta keep doing that every game.”
The inverse of the switch in roles, Thompson, hasn’t played as well since being introduced to the starting lineup. Thompson is averaging 6.3 points per game in the three games he has started, down from the 7.3 he was averaging coming in to the Feb. 1 game in Madison, Wis.
Thompson said ever since becoming a starter, things haven’t felt the same in the early stages of the games.
“It was a little bit of a different feeling. I don’t know how much my role changed, only because our goals are still the same,” Thompson said Feb. 3. “At the start of that game (against Wisconsin), we still wanted to execute in the first four minutes like we always do, whether I was starting or not. But it definitely felt a little bit different. I can’t say that it gave the team a boost. Shannon’s a great player so I don’t think there’s too much of (a) trade-off there, but from a personal standpoint it felt a little bit different.”
Matta said although Scott has been playing well on offense, it has been his defensive presence that has made a big difference off the bench.
“I love the way Shannon’s playing right now, just in terms of energy and coming in and he’s really (given) us a spark in terms of his energy on defense,” Matta said Friday. “He came in and deflected three balls right out of the chute.”
Another player who has seen his scoring increase in the wake of Matta’s lineup change is senior guard Aaron Craft.
Scott’s backcourt partner has been averaging 10.3 points per game in the last three, up from 9.2 before the winning streak.
Craft said the mentality Scott has had since coming off the bench has been beneficial to the whole team.
“Shannon played great … His pull-up jumper and just being aggressive on offense is something that we need him to do, regardless of who’s on the floor,” Craft said Feb. 3. “He’s got shooters on the floor, he’s got a bigger lineup, that’s what we need him to do. That’s what we’re trying to get across to him, day in and day out. So hopefully it continues on and he keeps that mindset.”
Scott, Thompson and Craft get their next chance to perform on the court Tuesday at 9 p.m., when the Buckeyes are scheduled to host their archrival, No. 15 Michigan (17-6, 9-2).