In Defense Of The Buckeye Tourney Chances

COLUMBUS – If the Buckeyes want to make this a March to remember it will likely be on the back of a stifling defense.

Ohio State forced 22 turnovers versus overmatched Maine in the first round of the NCAA Tournament including forcing a pair of 10-second calls on the Black Bears.

The 15 vs. 2 match-up went as predicted with the Buckeyes rolling to an easy 80-57 win, even after the Black Bears got off to a hot start.

“We had some turnovers, obviously,” Maine head coach Amy Vachon said after the game. “Not many teams don’t have turnovers against that team.”

The Buckeyes were averaging 21.2 forced turnovers per game but in Ohio State’s four losses, the team has averaged only 16.5 forced turnovers.

Five turnovers may not seem like a huge margin, but it certainly has been a factor when Kevin McGuff’s full-court pressure is effective.

On the flipside, the Buckeyes only committed 11 turnovers, eight of them in the second half when the foot came off the gas and the bench had an opportunity to see the court.

It is likely that Maine had not seen a team with the same type of defense in America East play. Over the course of the season the Black Bears only averaged 12.5 turnovers per game. By comparison, Ohio State forced 13 in the first half.

“We knew they were going to do it,” Vachon added. “They might be the best in the country at doing that. But it’s one of those things that you can’t really emulate. You can’t replicate it.”

For Ohio State, it was a happy return to more normalcy, especially after the last time the team took the court against Maryland in the Big Ten Tournament. The Buckeyes only forced 15 turnovers and saw the Terps take Ohio State out of its game en route to an 82-61 loss, a loss that robbed everyone from a third meeting between the Buckeyes and Iowa Hawkeyes.

“We looked more like ourselves in terms of our intensity, focus, and just how hard we were playing,” McGuff said. “So, I thought we had great moments today.

Ohio State won’t be too happy with Maine shooting 52.3-percent from the floor during the game. While the Buckeyes held Maine below its scoring average, the Black Bears did have its shots.

The Buckeyes scored 24 points off the 22 forced turnovers.

“We had a couple of flurries there where we had a couple of turnovers in a row,” Vachon said. “But for the majority of the game I felt we did a nice job breaking the press.”

Friday’s game was the first time that the Buckeyes had taken the court to play an opposing team in two weeks after the Maryland loss.

There is always a concern about developing a little rust with a long layoff, but McGuff was bound and determined not to allow that to happen as his team didn’t have time to put up their feet and get away from the gym.

“We practice really hard,” McGuff said. “So, the way we were practicing, I wasn’t really worried — I knew we had a great opponent today. We needed to be prepared to play Maine, but I wasn’t worried about us, just based on practice, the effort, intensity, the focus that we were practicing with.”

The loss to Maryland and previous loss to Iowa are now in the rearview mirror and the Buckeyes cannot focus on those games, but they were able to use them leading up to the tournament to fuel the fire and put in that extra rep, take that extra shot in practice, and just give a little bit more.

“After the loss against Maryland, we came back, regrouped, learned a lot from it and worked our butts off every week,” Ohio State guard Jacy Sheldon said. “That brought us together. Had to go through some adversity there and we worked through it.”

The Buckeyes will draw the winner of the Duke vs. Richmond game in the round of 32 with a ticket to the Pacific Northwest hanging in the balance.

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