The voice reverberated through the gym at South High School every time Luther Muhammad let a three-pointer fly.
“Respect the shooter!” it called out during the summer months. Typically, it coincided with another splash from the Ohio State guard, who week after week put on a show (with the PA announcer's accompaniment) during the Kingdom Summer League.
The level of competition bears only the faintest of comparisons to Big Ten basketball. As he prepared for his sophomore season, though, Muhammad used the Sunday showcase to display what he hoped would be a better-shooting version of himself when the calendar turned and the caliber of opponents changed.
Now it’s starting to show. After a ragged stretch that dogged him for roughly half the season, Muhammad is starting to find himself from three-point range and helped the Buckeyes dig out of a midseason slide. During his last three games, Muhammad has averaged 10 points per game while hitting on 6 of 10 shots from deep.
In Saturday’s win against Purdue, Muhammad was 3 of 5 from three.
“It felt good,” he said afterward. “(It’s) showing me that hard work pays off. Stay with it. Continue to work hard.”
As a freshman, Muhammad shot 37.5% (36 for 96) from three-point range but went just 5 for 28 (17.9%) in the final 11 games.
Through his first 10 games this season, he was shooting 51.9% (14 for 27) from three before the bottom dropped out. Muhammad made only 6 of 37 attempts in his next 11 games (16.2%) before making 1 of 2 at Wisconsin on Feb. 9.
After going 2 for 3 from deep against Rutgers, Muhammad has now hit multiple threes in consecutive games for the second time this season. Coach Chris Holtmann said the sophomore has done a better job of taking good shots and using his legs to get the right amount of lift.
“He was great,” Holtmann said after the win against the Boilermakers. “Made shots, took good ones, took clean ones, kind of played off other guys. I thought he played really solid and then impacted the game on the other end. I thought Luther was as good as maybe he’s been. I do think he’s getting his legs a little bit back from a tough January.”
The upturn has come as Muhammad battled injuries to both shoulders that could require offseason surgery. He wears a heavy protective black wrap on his left shoulder that, he said, has minimal impact on his shooting motion.
Muhammad has remained in the starting lineup for the past seven games in part because of his defensive abilities. Now, his offense is keeping him there. And throughout, Muhammad said his confidence never wavered even as his results did.
“I watch LeBron,” he said. “I watch pros. What do pros do when they miss shots? What do pros do when they play bad? They continue to work at it, continue to stay in the gym and sooner or later your work is going to show. It’s just staying with it.”
Back in the top 25
After falling from the No. 2 spot in the Associated Press men’s basketball rankings to out of the top 25 entirely, Ohio State has climbed back in again.
On the heels of consecutive home wins against Rutgers and Purdue, respectively, the Buckeyes re-entered the poll Monday at No. 25.
After improving to 11-1 overall with a win against Kentucky in Las Vegas on Dec. 21, Ohio State took a No. 2 national ranking into a game against West Virginia in Cleveland eight days later. The Mountaineers won 67-59, starting what would become a stretch of six losses in seven games for the Buckeyes.
Along the way, they dropped to No. 11, then No. 21, then out of the poll after a 90-76 loss at Penn State on Jan. 18. They would lose their next game, dropping them to 12-7 overall and 3-6 in Big Ten play, but they have now won five of their past six to climb back to 17-8 overall and 7-7 in the Big Ten.
Ohio State is projected as a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament according to BracketMatrix.com, which compiles dozens of mock brackets from across the internet.
OSU is the No. 9 team nationally, according to KenPom.com, the No. 18 team in the NCAA’s NET rankings used in helping sort resumes for the tournament and currently would hold the No. 8 seed in the Big Ten tournament.