Hot Shooting Night Has OSU Back On Defensive

As Ohio State closed out an outright Big Ten title, it did so with some offensive fireworks against Wisconsin to the tune of a record-breaking shooting night. Now preparing for their first game since Sunday's win against the Badgers, the Buckeyes are working to carry over their play at the other end of the court.

Ohio State head coach Thad Matta knows at least one thing about the way his players shot the ball against Wisconsin: they will never do it again.

So it is that as the Buckeyes prepare for an as-yet unknown foe in the Big Ten tournament, they are focusing perhaps not as much on shooting better than 90 percent from three-point range as they are on making sure their opponents do not, either.

"They're realistic in understanding we're probably not going to make 14 straight threes again," Matta said of his players. "The only thing I talked about is when shots aren't falling we've got to continue to defend."

As the Buckeyes have put together an overall season record of 29-2 while displaying a potent offensive attack, Matta has constantly harped on his team's defensive performance. Following a 19-point home victory against Illinois with three games remaining on the schedule, the coach was quick to point out one statistic.

Including that Feb. 22 contest with the Fighting Illini, the Buckeyes had allowed five straight teams to shoot better than 50 percent and had gone 3-2. Prior to that stretch, only five teams had hit at least half their shots against OSU in the first 23 games.

The message got across: none of OSU's final three opponents hit that mark as the Buckeyes captured an outright Big Ten championship. In a season-ending 28-point victory against Wisconsin on Sunday, however, the talk was mostly focused on the fact that Matta's team had set two NCAA shooting records in the process.

After senior guard Jon Diebler missed his first three-pointer of the game, the Buckeyes canned each of their subsequent 14 attempts. That marked records for both most consecutive three-pointers made and best three-point field goal percentage in a single game.

But perhaps most importantly, the Badgers were harassed into shooting 41.7 percent from the field. In the first contest between the teams this season – a Wisconsin win – the Badgers shot 51.0 percent.

"It's key for us," senior forward David Lighty said of his team's defense. "Our defense is the reason we've been winning these last couple games. Us coming out and frustrating teams and taking them out of their flow is really what has gotten us these large leads and making shots as well."

The Buckeyes learned that lesson early. Six games into the season, they headed to Florida State to take on the Seminoles as part of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. In a nationally televised game, OSU was held to a season-worst shooting percentage of 32.2. However, the home team fared little better, shooting 35.4 percent as the Buckeyes eked out a 14-point victory.

It was so tooth-and-nail that, with nearly half of the second half remaining, Matta issued a challenge to his charges: he did not care if the Buckeyes scored the rest of the way so long as they did not allow the Seminoles to do so themselves.

"I think defensively for 40 minutes at Florida State we were as good as we could be," Matta said later during the season. "Not that they're a high-powered scoring team but I thought we were really, really good in that game. I don't know if it's as good as we can do. I like the things the intensity that we had, the things that we were doing, the effort we were giving, seeing things, especially in the first half."

For freshman Jared Sullinger, it proved to be an eye-opening experience. Now more than three months later, the lesson continues to be harped upon by the coaches.

"When we played Wisconsin this past Sunday obviously we were hitting shots but at the same time we were locking down on defense," he said. "It was just a standing point where (because of that game) we knew what we could do. We just need to carry it over every game.

"There's times where we have lapses where teams shoot over 50 percent from the field. We've just go to do what we did on Sunday and carry it over to the tournament."

Said Matta: "Those are things that you hope over time as you're building habits, you're building a team identity that guys understand that. So we missed (a shot). We've got to go down and get a stop now. We've got to dig a little deeper. You hope that works."

And unless the Buckeyes break their own records for hot shooting, it is a lesson that will have to stick with them.

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