OSU Offense Hoping To Ignite

When Ohio State takes the court tonight against Houston Baptist, it will have the opportunity to close out its non-conference record at 10-1. Head coach Thad Matta has found himself missing a former player as his team's offense has struggled to achieve consistency as of late.

Even a few years removed from his career at Ohio State, it's clear that Je'Kel Foster remains a constant presence in the mind of head coach Thad Matta.

When a reporter asked a question about this year's Buckeye team and reference the former fiery point guard who played at OSU for two seasons, Matta sighed and looked down at the table in front of him for a second before cutting off the question.

"Could you stop brining his name up?" Matta said. "I miss that guy."

Looking at this year's OSU squad, it is not a stretch to see why the coach feels that way. After jumping out to a 9-0 start while averaging 68.8 points per game, the Buckeyes have struggled offensively while dropping three of their subsequent four contests.

In each of those three losses, the Buckeyes have failed to crack the 60-point mark. In one, they were held to a season-low 48 points.

While there have been a number of factors involved in the current skid, one of them is the fact that OSU has struggled to have a consistent offensive flow. In those three losses, starting point guard Jeremie Simmons has just five assists while his backups combined for six more.

During his Buckeye career, Foster was a player who could create at both ends of the court and excelled at finding his teammates with the ball. Matta still cites him as an example to his current players.

But examples can only do so much, and this year's team needs to find ways to attack the basket with better effectiveness. According to Matta, the team has shown him signs of improvement in its half-court offense.

"I think it's getting better," he said. ‘Just looking at it over the course of the last few games, I've felt like we made strides coming out of Saturday's game (against Minnesota) to Tuesday's game (against Michigan State)."

The chief reason for that opinion is the emergence of freshman center B.J. Mullens. Against the Spartans, Mullens had 16 points and began asserting himself as a go-to presence in the post.

As Mullens continues to grow, his ability to become a major offensive factor should help the OSU offense become more productive.

"Smaller teams are going to try to front him and have help side (defense), but what we have to do to keep getting the ball into the post is we have to keep swinging the ball around the perimeter and keep defenses moving," OSU guard Jon Diebler said. "I think we're pretty hard to guard when we share the ball and move the ball well."

That responsibility begins with the point guard position. Junior backup P.J. Hill said he is still tutoring Simmons in the art of mastering the spot because the sophomore is more of a scoring-oriented player.

Matta said the coaches are working with Simmons in an effort to get him to attack the basket more frequently.

"I thought there was a period in the West Virginia game where he showed some assertiveness offensively," he said. "(The task is to) get him to understand not to pick and choose but make it a constant of how you're going at people."

Simmons and Hill remain the lone options at the point. Matta said reserve freshman Walter Offutt has not been spending time working there in practice.

While two still-developing players at key positions in the offense will undoubtedly play a big role in how well the team's offense grows in the coming weeks, Matta also pointed to an unofficial statistic that applies to each player on offense.

"I'd say right now on this season a bad shot has led to a score at the other end probably about a 99 percent clip against us," he said. "That really puts pressure on the defense when that happens. We say this from day one: turnovers and bad shots lead to points at the other end."

The Buckeyes figure to get a chance to work out some of the kinks tonight in their final non-conference game of the regular season. OSU welcomes Houston Baptist and its 1-15 record to Value City Arena for a 7 p.m. tip (Big Ten Network).

Sophomore forward Dallas Lauderdale is not worried about the state of the team's half-court offense.

"I'm not up here saying we stink at half-court offense but I'm out here saying it's a part of the game," he said. "Just like we work on our half-court defense … we work on it all evenly in practice."


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