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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Ohio State Basketball: Amir Williams, LaQuinton Ross are X Factors for the Buckeyes

As the Ohio State University men's basketball team is still reeling from last night's 76-74  overtime loss to Michigan in Ann Arbor, there are still some unanswered questions.

Chief among them is why head coach Thad Matta refused to call timeout with a little more than seven seconds left in overtime, leaving the potential tying basket to chance rather than a set play. Instead, Matta trusted that his team would be able to catch the Wolverines off guard, and that the Buckeyes would live to play one more overtime. The game would end, however, when junior point guard Aaron Craft 's layup was blocked by Michigan guard Tim Hardaway, Jr.

Yet, despite the fact that the Buckeyes lost their third Big Ten game of the 2012-2013 season, there is a silver lining to last night's loss. First of all, Ohio State took the Wolverines best shot, on the road, and went toe to toe with the No. 3 team in the nation before falling to them in overtime. That in itself speaks volumes for a team that, only a month ago, was blown out by Illinois when two met in Assembly Hall.

More importantly, however, for the Buckeyes might be that sophomores Amir Williams and LaQuinton Ross may finally be living up to the hype that surrounded them as freshmen last year. Ross, a 6-9 swingman from Mississippi, scored 16 points for Ohio State last night on 7-10 shooting, including a perfect 2-2 from three point range. Williams added nine points but, more importantly, had four blocked shots on the defensive end.

These two couldn't have picked a better night to have what was by far the best game of their careers at Ohio State. Ross is still averaging only 8 points per game over the last five Big Ten contests, yet he has steadily seen his minutes increase since the last time Ohio State played Michigan (in Columbus). If he continues to shoot as well he did last night, it won't be long before he's averaging double digits.

And while no one expected Amir Williams to duplicate Jared Sullinger's numbers on the offensive side of the ball, his progression on the defensive side of the ball( he's averaging three blocks per game in his last five games) has to be music to the ears of Buckeyes' fans who felt the center from Detroit would be this year's version of Anthony Davis. Now if coach Matta can only get him to rebound the ball a little better.

But I digress. The point of the matter being, as Ohio State marches toward the NCAA tournament, Amir Williams and Laquinton Ross's improvements over the last several games mean the Buckeyes should no longer be an easy out. Ross is finally starting to come around as the Bucks' scoring alternative to forward Deshaun Thomas. And Williams seems quite content to be a game changer on the defensive end. With this year's tournament field being as weak as it is, it wouldn't be a surprise at all to see Ohio State once again playing on the final weekend.

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