Wednesday night, the freshman point guard from Indianapolis Lawrence North delivered a game-high 17 points, 10 assists and four steals leading the Buckeyes to a 73-41 victory over Northwestern. The performance by Conley, which included 7-of-10 shooting from the field and 2-of-2 from 3-point range followed 16 points on Saturday against Tennessee.
The offensive outburst came after last week's Ohio State loss against Wisconsin where Matta reportedly told Conley he wanted a more confident demeanor out of his offensive game - including Conley's 3-point shot. Conley has delivered.
With Ohio State (15-3, 3-1 Big Ten) easing to a 32-point victory against the 10-8 Northwestern, Matta was able to get to his point.
In addition to Conley's recent explosion, junior Jamar Butler - Matta's other point guard, added 16 points on Wednesday. Butler has been regaining his confidence in recent weeks for Ohio State following a long adjustment to a new role. On Wednesday, Butler was 5-of-6 from the field including 4-of-5 from 3-point range.
Ohio State has been searching for a more effective half-court offense since early December. While Northwestern committed to stopping 7-1 Greg Oden down low, holding the freshman to 5 points on 2-of-3 shooting, Butler, Conley and Othello Hunter (10 points, five rebounds) picked up the slack for the Buckeyes offensively.
Northwestern was led by Craig Moore who had 11 points. Moore shot 3-of-10 from 3-point range.
* In a game of limited possessions, the Buckeyes were especially sloppy at times. Ohio State committed 12 turnovers, eight of which were in the first half. Butler had four turnovers alone while senior Ron Lewis committed three more.
* The play of 6-9 junior forward Matt Terwilliger was especially uninspiring. Terwilliger logged 11 minutes but struggled mightily in his limited capacity, illustrating the distance between Hunter and himself. In a 4-minute stretch midway through the second half, Terwilliger managed to give up an easy one-on-one move and position to 6-6 forward Tim Doyle; picked up two personal fouls including an over-the-back call on offense; lost his man defensively in transition and turned the ball over trying to pass out of a double-team. He also missed a wide-open, streaking Conley on a give-and-go from the right baseline.
* Tendency could become a problem for Ohio State in the future. Although it was the Buckeyes' strategy to let Oden draw attention on the right block Wednesday and penetrate or kick-out for easy jumpers on the left side, Ohio State made a single shot from the right side of the paint against Northwestern. The Buckeyes attempted just four 3-pointers from that side, missing all four.
* Freshman forward David Lighty continues to struggle in his rookie campaign. Against Northwestern, Lighty was 1-of-6 from the field with 3 points in 13 minutes. The 6-5 Lighty has seen his average plummet to 4.9 points a game while shooting 37.7 percent from the field - 25 percent from behind-the-arc. Lighty clearly has lost all confidence in his jump shot and periodically has been caught out of control penetrating deep in the lane.
* In very few opportunities, Ohio State was poor in transition defense. Although the Wildcats did not have many run-out chances (nor did they want many), they caught Ohio State napping on a few occasions.
* Conley's offensive boom has given flashes of brilliance to a struggling club thought previously to be juggernaut material. The 6-1 point guard has been drilling 3-pointers with consistency in practice, and should it continue to carry over to games, his 9.8 points and 6.6 assists a game become that much more dangerous. He is shooting 52.4 percent from the field this year despite 28.5 percent from 3-point range.
* The Buckeyes may have played their best zone defense of the Matta era yet on Wednesday. The primary 2-3 zone was extremely active, especially on the perimeter. Othello Hunter's long arms along with Oden's presence inside made it nearly impossible for the Wildcats to attempt anything inside of 20 feet. Ohio State especially did a great job shutting down the backdoor pass even when an entry pass was gained to the strong block. If there was any weak spots Wednesday, it might have been a select few attempts to "lunge" at the shooter by Ivan Harris and Daequan Cook on the backside of the zone. Ohio State also mixed in some token full-court man pressure and a few successful half and three-quarter court traps.
* Despite the costly 12 turnovers in a game of low possessions, Ohio State was executing their half-court offense much better than usual against Northwestern. The Buckeyes used very few offensive sets against the Wildcats. However, they attacked a very tough 1-3-1 zone by swift ball movement. Additionally, a few attempts by Northwestern at a 2-3 or 1-2-2 were met with aggressive attacking by Conley and Butler.
* Butler has apparently regained his confidence and found a flow within the offense. Hunter, meanwhile, has become a dependable contributor in the frontcourt playing alongside and behind Oden. Should Lewis continue to adjust to the developing team chemistry and find his niche, Ohio State will be ultra-dangerous in March.
Speaking of March, I was listening to the Jim Rome radio show this afternoon. On the show of the abrasive Rome was Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan. In speaking to Rome about Ohio State, Ryan told listeners that Ohio State was a team you would not want to draw in your bracket on Selection Sunday.
That prophecy will only come to fruition if the Buckeyes find an offensive identity. While there are plenty of reasons to be frustrated with Ohio State's offensive scheme at times, they have shown some small glimpses of what the future could possibly hold should their group of 8-9 players become a cohesive unit and function as Matta has coached them to execute.
Ball movement, shot selection and taking care of the basketball have been primary points of emphasis for Matta in the last few weeks. His players are slowly showing signs of grasping the team concept and because of that, the offense has looked slightly better over the last two games.
Although Iowa invades Columbus Saturday with a young, inexperienced team, the Buckeyes cannot take anything for granted. The Hawkeyes have the Big Ten's leading scorer Adam Haluska - who helped lead Iowa to a 2-game sweep last season of the Buckeyes.
Heading into the game, at least Matta knows one player (Conley) has been taking his lessons to heart.