Two games into the season, the No. 20 Ohio State men’s basketball team has seen 10 players take the court.
Of those 10 players, exactly half didn’t play a minute of basketball in a Buckeye uniform last season.
With its new roster settling in, OSU (2-0) is set to take on Sacred Heart (1-1) on Sunday as the Buckeyes continue to work on a new style of play.
Coach Thad Matta’s team has employed a two-three zone defense through the first two games of the year, and early results have been positive as OSU has allowed just 59 points per game. Senior forward Sam Thompson said the new-look defense helps keep players fresh, but less running doesn’t equate to less thinking.
“It definitely saves legs (but) I don’t want to say you don’t have to pay attention as much on the defensive end,” Thompson said Friday. “For example, when I’m on the wing … I have to cover an area form the block to the 3-point line basically.”
But even though the Buckeyes have been strong on defense overall, Matta said they have to be careful when it comes to staying on task.
“If one guy lets down, it really weakens the entire defense,” he said Friday.
So far the new-look defense has worked to the tune of opponents shooting just .443 from the field. In comparison the Buckeyes have shot .633 percent from the field, helping them average 83 points per game.
Thompson said some credit for OSU’s up-tempo offense can go to the new style of defensive play.
“It’s really easy to run out of that zone because we get so many deflections, we force so many bad shots,” Thompson said. “We’re already in good running lanes (too).”
Matta attributed the high shooting percentage to preparation in practice and good decisions when on the court.
“I think guys are taking shots in a game that they’ve shot a high amount of repetitions of that shot,” he said. “I think we — as crazy as it sounds — we break down every single shot.”
As the Buckeyes have had success on the offensive end, their next opponent is coming off a 54-point outing in a 57-54 loss to the University of Massachusetts-Lowell on Thursday. That same UMass-Lowell team is the squad that OSU beat in its season opener, and the Buckeyes scored 92 points in the process.
While Sacred Heart is coming off a loss, OSU is fresh off a 74-63 win against Marquette. The Buckeyes shot better than 70 percent in the second half, and Thompson said that offensive success stems from ball movement and a specific plan.
“We’re moving the ball a lot better, we’re playing a lot faster,” he said. “I think we’re playing more to people’s strengths, as opposed to playing to weaknesses.”
But despite the early-season success, Matta said there is still room for improvement coming off the win against the Golden Eagles.
“It’s more positioning, it’s more thinking, it’s more scouting,” Matta said. “We made some pretty decent adjustments at halftime (against Marquette) and guys did a better job, but we got up 20 … and they scored 12 points in the last four minutes.”
Freshman guard D’Angelo Russell agreed that OSU could have performed at a higher level last Tuesday, but added the Buckeyes have turned their focus to a new opponent and put that game in the rearview mirror.
“Honestly, I feel like as a team we could’ve played better, (we) kind of let our guard down a little bit,” Russell said. “But we take every game one at a time.”
OSU and Sacred Heart are set to tip-off at 7 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.