OSU missing confidence when shooting three-pointers

Rob Oller
Ohio State Buckeyes guard Luther Muhammad (1) hits a three pointer against Rutgers Scarlet Knights guard Peter Kiss (32) during the 1st half of their game at Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio on February 2, 2019. [Kyle Robertson/Dispatch]

Ohio State does not have a Stephen Curry. OK, fine. There is only one of him. And if you’re lucky, a knock-down shooter even half as dangerous as Curry drops into your lap maybe once a decade.

But the Buckeyes do not possess even the quarter-as-dangerous shooter. They lack an outside scorer who puts fans’ fears to rest. If you follow OSU this season — and who are we kidding, in most recent seasons, too — you rarely think a three-point shot is destined to fall.

On a comfort level of 1 to 5, with 5 being “That ball absolutely is going in,” Ohio State rates a 2½. The Buckeyes do not lack decent outside shooters. Freshman guard Luther Muhammad is shooting 42.3 percent from three-point range. Senior point guard C.J. Jackson is at 41.2 percent and has a knack for making big shots late in games. Ohio State shoots a respectable 35.8 percent on threes as a team.

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What mostly is missing is a collective confidence that someone will step up and makes shots every game, not every other game as now seems to be the case.

Example: After a torrid stretch two weeks ago when he went 8 of 18 (.444) from three-point range, Muhammad is 0 of 5 from beyond the arc the past two games and 1 of 15 overall from the field.

“At this time of the season, it is a confidence thing,” coach Chris Holtmann said of OSU’s spotty shooting. “So it can be delicate.”

Holtmann is sensitive not to browbeat players for missing shots, as long as the shots fit his definition of quality looks.

“If it’s a good shot … and within a guy’s strength, then we want them to have the freedom not to be looking over at the bench, ‘Should I shoot this or not?’ We want them to shoot it,” he said.

Holtmann largely thinks OSU has taken quality shots, which leads to the natural conclusion: These guys are streaky, and exceptional shooters seldom are streaky.

I mostly missed Rick Mount and Pete Maravich, but was around for Glen Rice, J.J. Redick and other sharpshooters who, when they released a shot, there was a certain assurance — a feel, I guess you could call it — that the ball was going in. The statistics say otherwise. Even Curry misses more three-point attempts (43.7 percent over his NBA career) than he makes.

Still, I liken an excellent three-point shooter to watching Tiger Woods in his prime. Woods lost more tournaments than he won, but you liked his chances every time he teed it up. Former Ohio State guard Jon Diebler shot 41.6 percent from three-point range for his career, but you would have sworn he made almost every shot he attempted.

The Buckeyes don’t have a dead-eye Diebler to take the pressure off center Kaleb Wesson down low. The lack of a consistent scoring threat from outside may not be Ohio State’s worst enemy — too many turnovers and a weak transition game get most of the eye rolls these days — but a broader view shows the Buckeyes win when making three-pointers, and find trouble when not. They shot 41.2 percent in their six Big Ten wins and 29.7 percent in their eight conference losses.

“Jeff Van Gundy’s famous line (about the NBA is), ‘It’s a make-or-miss league’. No question that is true in basketball,” Holtmann said.

The Buckeyes are in a tight spot. It will require another year of seasoning for Muhammad and freshman Duane Washington Jr. to consistently dial in from the outside. More help is on the way — point guard DJ Carton arrives next season as a freshman point guard with deep-ball accuracy — but until then, Ohio State needs to weather the hot and cold shooting that hamstring teams that do not have a Curry — or even a Curry Lite — to lean on.


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