Up-Hill Climb

P.J. Hill played just nine minutes against Michigan State, but he showed more promise in those nine minutes than arguably all season. Hill's lone bright spot could be the progress the Buckeyes have long been waiting for.

He walked off the court with a stoic look on his face. The sweat drenched his jersey, adding to the weight of the team he was already carrying on his back.

Jamar Butler had just given his standard 110 percent. But Ohio State still fell flat on their face.

It was another devastating defeat for the Buckeyes and their Mister Everything 6-2 senior point guard. The 66-60 loss to Michigan State was nearly a heroic turnaround turned mundane result.

Twenty-one points for Butler and just 39 for the rest of the inexperienced squad, the guard is left clamoring for someone to assist him.

I need it from the beginning of the game all the way through the end,” he said Tuesday evening. “I need somebody to go with. That’s what I’m searching for right now. Hopefully I find it.”

But the former first-team All-Big Ten guard as a sophomore may have seen the light at the end of the tunnel. Butler has scored 21, 26 and 32 in three out of his last four games. In the fourth, he didn’t add a single point but still managed a double-double in rebounds and assists.

Being a necessary mainstay in the Ohio State rotation, practically 40 minutes per game, Butler’s burden may finally be easing up a bit in light of the spark provided by sophomore guard P.J. Hill toward the end of the first half and down the stretch against the Spartans.

It was odd. Hill played nine minutes, scoring just a single point. He had a lone assist and a pair of rebounds. But yet, seemingly, Ohio State played better when he was in the game.

Playing the last three minutes of the first half, Hill’s defensive pressure helped spark a 10-2 run to close out the half from the 32-11 deficit found when he entered. Coming in the last six minutes of the game, down 55-46, Hill helped provide a steady finish, though the Buckeyes were unable to mount a serious comeback. For the game, he was on the positive side (11 points) of the plus/minus, a statistic to measure how many points you outscore your opponent when you’re on the floor.

According to Ohio State head coach Thad Matta, Hill has been earning minutes in practice. It’s a welcome thought for several reasons.

First and foremost, Hill has always been coined a spark plug. He’s a guy that provides energy. If nothing else, that was apparent when the Buckeyes extended full-court pressure in trying to speed up the game and create turnovers. But more importantly, as the lone point guard on the roster after Butler, he could give the newly-crowned 1,000-point scorer much needed rest in small, strategic placements.

With freshman Jon Diebler shooting just 27.7 percent from 3-point range and fellow rookie Evan Turner averaging 2.6 turnovers per game, Hill could potentially settle down the Buckeyes when chaos reigns. As a one-two punch, Hill and Butler played well on the floor together.

That’s not to say Hill’s potential emergence over the second half of the season would spell doom to Diebler and Turner’s minutes. Diebler remains the most likely candidate to bust out from behind the arc and Turner is one of the few guys capable – and willing, to score off penetration.

However, Hill is capable of handling pressure. He also was aggressive Tuesday in attacking on the dribble. Giving Butler minutes off the ball could keep him fresh and potentially more effective on nights where Ohio State is nursing a lead or trying to mount a furious comeback.

TURN, TURN, TURN (OVER)

In the last three Buckeye losses, protecting the ball has been at a premium. It’s also been missing in action.

Ohio State has 54 turnovers (18 per game) in losses to Butler, Purdue and Michigan State. The usually steady Butler has 11, wearing down from attention shown by defenders, while Turner has nine and sophomore David Lighty has eight.

Empty possessions have resulted from turnovers and missed shots. Tough defensive pressure has been extended by opposing defenses knowing the Buckeyes are not making them regret it.

GIVE THE MAN A HAND

In addition to turnovers, losses can be easily explained by simply looking at the assist-to-turnover ratio. Some may claim it’s a chicken-or-egg syndrome, but it’s easy to draw conclusions to the lack of ball movement by looking at this simple statistic.

In Ohio State’s five losses thus far this season, Ohio State is averaging just 55.2 points per game. Further, Ohio State has dished out just 50 assists of 97 field goals. That’s a percentage of just 51.5 percent of the makes.

However, in the 12 victories this season, Ohio State has 213 assists to 338 field goals. The percentage (63.1) is considerably different.

Though it’s hardly a direct correlation it is clear the passing has not been as crisp in losses as it has in victories. Against Illinois, the Buckeyes assisted just 10-of-26 field goals, but survived against a team struggling this season thanks to Butler’s 26 points.


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