Boy did it work. The Buckeyes flipped a switch at that point, outscoring Illinois 51-27 from there to secure a 77-61 win.
The defensive switch was obviously the major takeaway, but there were layers to that change and more to see from the Buckeyes. Here's what I saw.
- Scott shines: The man-to-man defense had a different effect on different players, but the one who seemed perhaps most confident in it was Shannon Scott. His stat line won't jump out at you (nine points, five assists, four rebounds and two steals), but he was light years more aggressive on both ends after the Buckeyes went to man.
Scott is such a gifted defender that I have long thought the biggest casualty of the zone defense was wasting his talent. He was a different player in man.
- Tight rotation: It was, however, obvious to me why Matta waited this long to make the switch. He doesn't trust his whole offense in that set. Neither Keita Bates-Diop nor Kam Williams got a minute of action in man-to-man defense while Jae'sean Tate played just three of his nine minutes in man-to-man (and 1:19 of that was the final 1:19 of the game).
The man defense was incredibly effective Saturday, but if it prevents Matta from having any rotation outside of the center position, it's dangerous. D'Angelo Russell was forced into 40 minutes of action for the first time of his career.
- Big-man blues:Speaking of the center position, Amir Williams played just 12 minutes Saturday, four minutes in man and just 57 seconds in the second half. Anthony Lee led the way from that position with five points in 16 minutes while Trey McDonald played 12. The Buckeyes can get away with that against Illinois, a team whose 6-11 "center" plays like a forward, but that can't continue in Big Ten play.
"I know we were a little bit tired, but those guys had great communication going in terms of what we were doing defensively as well as offensively," Matta said of the tight rotation. "We were talking about subbing and we just said, 'Hey, let's see how long we can ride this out.' Sure enough, we were able to finish with it."
- Football fever: Though the basketball team got their biggest win of the season Saturday, tehre was still plenty of football to focus on. The gridiron buckeyes were honored as Sugar Bowl Champions at the first media timeout of the first half and coach Urban Meyer addressed the fans along with captains Doran Grant and Curtis Grant. All three thanked the arena for their support and asked for it to continue in the Jan. 12 national title game against Oregon.
The crowd, naturally, went wild.
“I couldn’t hear nothing coach Matta said in the huddle," Russell said. "It got louder than it’s ever got. I’m like dang, are they playing now.”
Sam Thompson admitted he didn't even try to hear his coach.
"I was listening to coach Meyer and Doran," he said. "They brought us great energy. Like we said we were all excited by the way they played on Thursday, whenever it was. We fed off of that. We really took it upon ourselves to try to play like them, to try to buy in the way that they all bought in and I think we did that today.”