The Ohio State Buckeyes took on the Virginia Commonwealth Rams on Thursday evening in the NCAA Tournament. The Buckeyes were bounced from the NCAA Tournament in the round of 64 in 2014 and were looking to avoid the same fate this year.
Ohio State came out sloppy again on Thursday evening. They were careless with the ball in the beginning of the game and they found themselves down by 12 as a result. The Buckeyes were able to fight back and cut the deficit to 1 at the break. The second half is when the game got fun. Both teams traded punches like heavy weight prized fighters. Ohio State was able to grab the lead with just under 4 minutes left in regulation thanks to a huge 3 from Keita Bates-Diop, but VCU fought back to force overtime.
Overtime was just as back and forth as the second half. Again Bates-Diop hit a huge 3 halfway through the extra frame to give the Buckeyes the lead. This time Ohio State didn't relinquish the lead. Shannon Scott put the Buckeyes up 3 with a driving layup and D'Angelo Russell finished the game at the line. Ohio won by a final of 75-72.
What We Learned
Ohio State can play an effective zone
The Buckeyes used a zone as their base defense to start the season, but they got away from it after an embarrassing first half to North Carolina in December. Since then, Ohio State has used man as their primary defense. While they haven't been a great defensive team, they've shown throughout the season they are a much better defense when they're in a man.
Due to foul trouble and VCU's speed, Thad Matta elected to go with a zone halfway through the first half. This proved to be the move that saved the game for the Buckeyes. They were able to slow down the Ram's offense. The zone caught VCU off guard and they had a hard time adjusting to it and Matta was able to use Amir Williams' size underneath the basket to stop VCU's attack to the basket. Plus, it made the Rams an outside shooting team, which isn't the best part of their game. As a result, VCU only shot 38% from the field and 39% from behind the 3 point line.
Keita Bates-Diop can make clutch shots
Bates-Diop was forced into the game because of Jae'Sean Tate's foul trouble, and he delivered. The freshman knocked down two huge 3's for the Buckeyes to give them the lead late. He showed us that he's able to take and make big shots. Ohio State will need him to keep doing this in the tournament, especially with the lack of production they're getting from Marc Loving.
Amir Williams can play with emotion
Williams isn't known for his hustle in Columbus, but you wouldn't have known that watching the game Thursday. The senior took advantage of VCU's lack of size and scored 13 points on 4 of 5 shooting. He also scored the Buckeye's final 4 points of regulation that sent the game to overtime. Williams showed us what he can do when he sets his mind to it. The Buckeyes will need to see more play like this from him if they went to beat Arizona on Saturday.
D'Angelo Russell isn't afraid of the big stage.
The freshman put on a show for us against VCU. He finished with 28 points and was the reason Ohio State won this game. He didn't fold in the spotlight, he just stepped up and made clutch shot after clutch shot. We've seen underdog teams ride a hot player like Russell deep into the tournament. Who knows how far Russell can take the Buckeyes if he keeps having dominate games like this. The Buckeyes may be a 10 seed, but they aren't a team you want to play when Russell is on. When he's on the top of his game, the Buckeyes are a tough team to beat.
Ohio State showed us that they can be a tough out when they're on the top of their game. They play the Arizona Wildcats Saturday in the round of 32. They'll need to be on the top of their game if they want to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.