After a season of talking about his defensive capabilities, Luther Muhammad couldn’t get the words out quickly enough on Thursday.
Playing in a drag-down battle of a game that seemed suited for his style of play, the guard had helped Ohio State fend off Penn State 74-70 by scoring 20 points while playing 37:32. Muhammad, a freshman, was 5 of 11 from the field, 2 of 4 from three-point range and perfect on eight free-throw attempts.
So, from the horse’s mouth: Does Muhammad think his offense is underrated?
“Yes, I most definitely think my offense is underrated,” he immediately replied.
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If he keeps this up, it won’t be for much longer.
Thursday marked the second time he had scored at least 20 points, and it came three games after he put up a career-high 24 in a win at Nebraska that snapped a five-game losing streak for Ohio State. Starting with the game before that, when Muhammad scored 10 points in a loss to Purdue, he is scoring 13.8 points per game while shooting 52.5 percent from the field and 57.9 percent from three-point range.
He enters a game Sunday at Indiana as the Buckeyes’ third-leading scorer (10.2 points per game) and best three-point shooter (45.2 percent). More than that, he is giving coach Chris Holtmann an offensive presence the team has been lacking.
“He is our guy right now that has the ability to kind of go get something,” Holtmann said. “Sometimes our other guys can struggle with that. Right now, (Muhammad) can at least get a clean look. That’s why we’ve tried to put him in some situations.”
It doesn’t always work, but Muhammad credited teammates for encouraging him to step into that role and start to trust his offense more.
“They’re just telling me if I’m open, shoot,” he said. “Sometimes I pass up open shots that I should take. They just tell me to shoot the ball sometimes.”
After hitting a jumper to give the Buckeyes a 41-37 lead against the Nittany Lions, Muhammad made a three-pointer on the next possession from the left wing that brought the announced crowd of 15,824 to its feet. Muhammad who looked right at Penn State’s Josh Reaves, shouted a few words and nodded his head as he ran back up the court.
“This is my first time playing at this level,” he said of going against Reaves, a senior. “I’m just very excited. I want the test. I want the challenge. I want somebody to push me, to bring the best out of me every game. It was a great experience.”
And as for the jawing at Reaves?
“I don’t really talk too much, but if you start it, I’m going to finish it,” he said.