Collectively, Big Ten teams haven’t found much success against Ohio State this season.
Recently, though, three opposing players have found a few gaps in the armor as the No. 17 Buckeyes have tried to keep pace with Purdue atop the league standings.
In a gritty win against Nebraska, the Buckeyes saw guard James Palmer Jr. pour in 34 points, a Value City Arena record for an opponent. Three days later, Penn State’s Tony Carr put up 28 points, including the winning three-pointer at the buzzer, to hand Ohio State its first conference loss.
And although the Buckeyes bounced back with a 15-point win against Indiana on Tuesday, Hoosiers reserve guard Devonte Green scored a career-high 20 points.
This is the first time this season that Ohio State has allowed an opponent to have a 20-point scorer in three consecutive games. With Illinois and prolific scoring guard Trent Frazier visiting Sunday, it’s a worrisome trend that the Buckeyes hope to address.
“You do want to try to obviously defend their best players and their best option well,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. “I think guys in this league have the ability to get going in a hurry on you. Palmer certainly did that, and in the Penn State game, (Carr) certainly did that.”
Holtmann pointed out that Green got his points mostly because Ohio State was focused on shutting down Robert Johnson, which Buckeyes guard C.J. Jackson did to the tune of two total points.
“You certainly look for a guy that’s more than willing and wants the challenge,” Holtmann said. “You want your team to understand that — we get scored on, not I — but at the end of the day, there is some individual competitiveness that comes in when you’re trying to neutralize players.”
Ohio State has had the game’s leading scorer in 16 of its 24 games this season but just once in its past five games. Individuals' scoring numbers aren’t necessarily tied directly to wins, and junior forward Keita Bates-Diop downplayed performances such as Palmer’s and Carr’s.
Frazier has averaged 18 points during Illinois’ modest two-game winning streak, and he scored a season-high 27 points against Iowa on Jan. 11.
As a team, Bates-Diop said, the key on defense is having players in the gaps and sliding over to offer weak-side help.
He said shutting down a hot scorer can be difficult.
“We’re playing against good players in a good league where players are going to get hot," he said. "Obviously it didn’t happen a lot earlier in the season, but we try to contain guys as much as possible.”
Asked if it was frustrating to see someone have a night like the one Palmer did, Bates-Diop essentially pointed to the scoreboard.
“Yeah, but we won that game,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how many points you have as long as we win.”