When Wisconsin plays Duke for the men’s college basketball championship on Monday night, the coin flip of a game will be decided by a series of countdowns. Each time one of the teams gains possession, it will have up to 35 seconds to shoot. The team that uses its allotted time — or eschews some of it — better than its opponent will win. Each team uses the shot clock differently, in ways that should make for many interesting games within the game. Here’s what to watch for:Early in the shot clock. Transition opportunities are the best opportunities in basketball. Teams get to attack the basket at a high pace, with more space and fewer defenders. The average Division I team is better in transition than it is overall, scoring 0.88 points per possession generally and 1.03 points per possession in transition.Both finalists execute really well in transition. Wisconsin scores 1.22 points per transition possession, according to Synergy Sports Technology stats. That’s fifth best in the country (of 351 teams in Division I). Duke ranks seventh, scoring 1.21 points per transition possession.But Duke pushes the ball, getting into transition much more than Wisconsin does. The Blue Devils were in transition in 18 percent of their offensive possessions, which puts them in the top 20 percent of Division I teams. Wisconsin ranks dead last, at 7 percent.1That’s broadly consistent with Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted tempo rankings (paywall): Wisconsin ranks 345th of 351 teams, while Duke ranks in the top third.Duke transition possessions could be a trouble spot for Wisconsin’s defense, which often wilts against the fast break. The Badgers are a pretty good defensive team in the half court, but below average in transition.In the middle of the shot clock. This isn’t as good as transition opportunities, but is a much better place for an offense to be than the dying seconds of the shot clock, because ball handlers have lots more options besides shooting.The middle of the shot clock — not transition, but with more than four seconds left — is the terrain where most of a typical basketball game is contested, and especially Wisconsin games. The Badgers ended 87 percent of their possessions in this middle ground, running half-court sets without the pressure of needing to shoot right away. That ranks third in Division I, behind Bucknell and Virginia. And they are very dangerous in these sets, scoring 1.05 points per possession — nearly 0.2 points better than the average team in this situation. That means Wisconsin’s half-court set is so good, it’s better than the average transition offense.Duke defends well against these kinds of shots, allowing 0.05 points per possession less than average — 38th best in Division I. But that’s unlikely to faze Wisconsin much, since it just played Kentucky. The Wildcats are the best in the country against half-court offenses shooting before the very end of the clock, allowing 0.16 fewer points per possession. Yet the Badgers beat Kentucky playing primarily in the half court.Duke’s offense also is really good in these bread-and-butter plays, ranking ninth in the country in efficiency. But it plays this style at a below-average rate, just 79 percent of the time.The final seconds of the clock. Teams try to avoid holding the ball this long. Short-clock offense is about as bad as transition offense is good. Teams average just 0.71 points per possession with no more than four seconds left on the shot clock. No wonder they do all they can to avoid the deadline pressure, facing the countdown on fewer than 4 percent of plays.For most of the season, Kentucky avoided these plays even more than the average team, and for good reason: The Wildcats are well above average at transition offense and a solid half-court team, but they stink late in the shot clock, scoring just 0.61 points per possession, well below average. Their drop-off in efficiency from the middle of the clock to those final seconds was among the biggest in Division I.2The 25th biggest drop-off among 351 teams. Yet they inexplicably milked the shot clock on a futile string of possessions late in their game against Wisconsin, contributing mightily to the Badgers’ win.Duke is as loath as Kentucky to let the clock tick down, but is far better when it does, scoring 0.91 points per possession. These are small sample sizes: Just 100 plays during Duke’s entire season occurred that late in the clock.Wisconsin has more experience living on the edge, getting near the end of the shot clock on 6 percent of its plays, in part because it plays so little transition O. But it’s not quite as efficient as Duke when it does. The Badgers should avoid letting the clock run down on Monday night, and not only because they’re so good with more time to work: Duke ranked 13th in the country in defending late-clock plays, allowing barely half a point per possession.Neil Paine contributed to this article.Correction: An earlier version of this article referred imprecisely to the difference between plays in the middle of the shot clock and short-clock plays. Plays with exactly four seconds left on the shot clock count as short-clock plays, not as plays in the middle of the clock.
Donald Sterling, for all his defiance, still lost his team.A judge has ruled that Shelly Sterling had the legal standing to decide matters of the family trust on her husband’s behalf, clearing the way for former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who offered $2 billion for the franchise, to officially take over the team.Shelly Sterling burst into tears when Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas announced the decision.“This is going to be a good thing for the city, for the league for my family and for all of us,” she said outside the courthouse. “Come see the Clippers next year.”Chris Paul, the team’s star guard and coach Doc Rivers said they were considering sitting out if Donald Sterling maintained ownership. Sterling became an embattled figure when phone recordings of him making racially charged comments were released by his girlfriend.The sale of the Clippers to Ballmer went through on May 29 and was made possible because Donald Sterling was found to be “mentally incapacitated.” According to the terms of the family trust, this gave Shelly Sterling the authority to make decisions on the trust’s assets — most notably the Clippers — without also getting Donald Sterling’s signature.But Donald Sterling sued in probate court, arguing that the neurological exam was conducted under false pretenses and does not accurately describe his mental state.The sale window to Ballmer was supposed to close on July 15, but it was extended until August 15 so the trial could finish. Had the judge ruled in favor of Donald Sterling, the window could have expired, forcing the NBA to go through the termination process it was prepared to use until the sale to Ballmer happened.Were that to succeed, the league would have controlled the team and auctioned it to the highest bidder. But there was a risk that Donald Sterling wouldn’t officially be out of the picture by the start of the season, which is why players suggested they might boycott next season if a favorable ruling didn’t happen.The trial began in early July, despite attempts by Donald Sterling’s legal team to delay the start. The trial was supposed to focus mostly on the legality of Shelly Sterling’s decision and whether the mental incapacity diagnosis was appropriate, but it eventually veered into other topics, most notably the value of the team should Donald Sterling remain owner.While Donald Sterling can still sue for monetary damages, he will not be able to appeal the judge’s ruling on ownership as the court ruled 1310(b) was not just for life and death cases, making it a clean sweep for Shelly Sterling.The judge said the issue of the 1310(b) provision was the hardest issue to decide on, but found it does not apply to just life and death cases as Donald Sterling had argued. The judge said the trust would lose $400 million if the provision wasn’t used and said he believed the “death spiral” theory of interim Clippers CEO Richard Parsons.Donald Sterling can still sue the trust for monetary damages, but he would essentially be suing himself. As part of an earlier deal with Shelly Sterling, the NBA is indemnified in any lawsuit.
In the latest installment in our documentary podcast series Ahead Of Their Time, we look at Charles Reep, the father of soccer analytics — and a guy who made one big, glaring mistake that changed the course of English soccer for the worse. But in order to arrive at his very wrong conclusion, he first had to radically transform the way people thought about consuming a soccer match.There was no Opta back in 1950, no Total Shots Ratio, no Expected Goals. But there was Reep, who took it upon himself to attend every Swindon Town F.C. match that season — sometimes with a miner’s helmet on his head to better illuminate his notes — and meticulously scribble down play-by-play diagrams of how everything went down. More than 60 years before player-tracking cameras became all the rage in pro sports, Reep was mapping out primitive spatial data the old-fashioned way, by hand.Poring over all the scraps of data he’d collected, Reep eventually came to a realization: Most goals in soccer come off of plays that were preceded by three passes or fewer. And in Reep’s mind, this basic truth of the game should dictate how teams play. The key to winning more matches seemed to be as simple as cutting down on your passing and possession time, and getting the ball downfield as quickly as possible instead. The long ball was Reep’s secret weapon.“Not more than three passes,” Reep admonished during a 1993 interview with the BBC. “If a team tries to play football and keeps it down to not more than three passes, it will have a much higher chance of winning matches. Passing for the sake of passing can be disastrous.”This was it: Maybe the first case in history of an actionable sports strategy derived from next-level data collection, such as it was. And Reep got more than a few important folks to listen to his ideas, too. It took him a few decades of preaching, but Reep’s recommended playing style was adopted to instant success by Wimbledon F.C. in the 1980s, and then reached the highest echelons of English soccer — channeled as it was through the combination of England manager Graham Taylor and Football Association coaching director Charles Hughes, each of whom believed in hoofing the ball up the pitch and chasing it down (and now seemed to have the data to back up their intuition). The long ball was suddenly England’s official footballing policy.The trouble was, Reep’s theory was based on a fatally flawed premise. As I wrote two years ago, when discussing Reep’s influence on soccer analytics:Reep’s mistake was to fixate on the percentage of goals generated by passing sequences of various lengths. Instead, he should have flipped things around, focusing on the probability that a given sequence would produce a goal. Yes, a large proportion of goals are generated on short possessions, but soccer is also fundamentally a game of short possessions and frequent turnovers. If you account for how often each sequence length occurs during the flow of play, of course more goals are going to come off of smaller sequences — after all, they’re easily the most common type of sequence. But that doesn’t mean a small sequence has a higher probability of leading to a goal.To the contrary, a team’s probability of scoring goes up as it strings together more successful passes. The implication of this statistical about-face is that maintaining possession is important in soccer. There’s a good relationship between a team’s time spent in control of the ball and its ability to generate shots on target, which in turn is hugely predictive of a team’s scoring rate and, consequently, its placement in the league table. While there’s less rhyme or reason to the rate at which teams convert those scoring chances into goals, modern analysis has ascertained that possession plays a big role in creating offensive opportunities, and that effective short passing — fueled largely by having pass targets move to soft spots in the defense before ever receiving the ball — is strongly associated with building and maintaining possession. Here at FiveThirtyEight, we tend to think statistics can add to our understanding of sports. (What a surprise!) From the more mature sabermetric movements of baseball and basketball to growing ones in soccer and hockey, evidence-based examination has led to new thoughts and ideas about the games we love.But there can also be a dark side to analytics. Among other potential pitfalls, interpreting the numbers incorrectly can lead to terrible decisions or encourage habits that are hard to break, particularly given the added weight that conclusions carry if they appear to emerge from hard data. For an example, look no further than the state of English soccer after it began using what appeared to be a scientific strategy. By Joe Sykes and Neil Paine More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS It probably wasn’t entirely Reep’s fault when England flamed out at Euro 1992, or when they failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup. But it couldn’t have helped that they were playing a misguided style, informed by well-meaning but faulty statistical principles.Ultimately, Reep was a cautionary tale of the damage that can be done when stats go wrong. But he was also light-years ahead of his time for tracking stats in the first place. Even though his conclusions were wrong, his instincts were right. Now, national and club teams across the globe pay for massive amounts of data that, in one way or another, come out of the tradition of soccer analytics that Charles Reep helped start. As far as legacies in the game go, you could do worse.This is part of our new podcast series “Ahead Of Their Time,” profiling players and managers in various sports who were underappreciated in their era.
3Bucks1551511740.6 13Jazz3702613725.6 25Bulls226194816.3 15Grizzlies3742713324.9 8Pistons189148529.5 27Pacers232114415.4 22Suns4392910918.9 21Mavericks4071910119.1 24Cavaliers216205117.7 2Nets1431313746.7 18Trail Blazers3912611020.9 9Hawks189208428.5 1976ers210195920.4 29Raptors24910289.8 11Lakers3922815727.2 7Rockets3383616330.3 TOTAL MINUTES SPENT … 12Clippers3952515627.0 16Wizards212126422.3 How teams have fared against the Warriors, from 2014-15 to 2016-17 TEAMBEHINDTIEDAHEADPERCENTAGE OF TIME AHEAD After the Warriors accomplished the inevitable — winning a championship with relative ease after adding superstar Kevin Durant to a 73-win core — there were two natural questions looming for the rest of the NBA: What will it take to dethrone this budding dynasty, and when will that realistically happen?The answer, as far as oddsmakers are concerned, is seemingly no time soon. Even Cavs star LeBron James, the greatest player of his generation, sounded unsure of how to beat the Golden State going forward after the club extinguished Cleveland in five games.“Teams and franchises are going to be trying to figure out ways that they can put personnel together, the right group of guys together, to be able to hopefully compete against this team,” said James, whose team needed a historic shooting night to stave off a sweep. “They’re assembled as good as you can assemble, and I played against some really, really good teams that was assembled perfectly, and they’re right up there.”By examining the Dubs’ handful of losses in recent seasons, a formula does appear to emerge, albeit in a regular-season setting. And while that doesn’t answer the larger question about dethroning them, it helps illustrate what teams have consistently done to knock Golden State off stride.The league’s other 29 teams were less likely to beat the Warriors by playing an inferior version of Warriors basketball. Cleveland needed to practically burn down the nets with its 3-point shooting to win a Game 4 shootout. But opponents have been more successful by taking Golden State out of its element: having enough defense and length to disrupt the Warriors’ shooting, while having enough offense to keep up with the inevitable points allowed.Opponents with top-12 defenses1The top-12 defenses that knocked off the Warriors this past year included the Spurs (twice), the Grizzlies (twice), the Jazz, the Heat, the Bulls and the Celtics. fared best against the Dubs this past season, accounting for eight of Golden State’s 15 regular-season losses. More broadly than that, beating the Warriors will likely require slowing them down2The Warriors averaged 23.7 points on fast breaks in wins, and 17.7 in losses this season., not only in transition, where they’re far and away the best in the league, but also in half-court scenarios.The clubs that have the most success against them have smart, versatile defenders who possess the length to contest Golden State’s sharpshooters3During ABC’s broadcast of Game 5 on Monday, announcers discussed a graphic showing that Kevin Durant’s release point on his jump shot was 10 feet, 3 inches high, making it a nearly impossible task to defend him without considerable height, length and athleticism. — the team shot 41 percent from 3-point range in its regular-season wins, but just 27 percent in its losses — and the height and size to switch defensive assignments and neutralize the Warriors’ highly unusual methods for setting screens. Includes regular season games since 2014-15.Source: ESPN Stats and Info 4Heat1582510536.5 5Celtics1712310334.6 23Magic213225318.4 14Kings4072814525.0 1Spurs1842926755.6% 6Thunder3462416330.5 20Pelicans3873810820.1 26Hornets232114515.5 10Nuggets3242313828.4 17Timberwolves3883311221.0 28Knicks242133311.5 That partially explains how long, rangy teams such as the San Antonio Spurs and Milwaukee Bucks have done better against the Warriors during the past three regular seasons than just about anyone else. They have respectable defenders they can throw onto the Warriors’ best scorers, and the ability to force Golden State far later into the shot clock — where efficiency plummets — than most other teams can.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/spursd.mp400:0000:0000:20Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/bucksd.mp400:0000:0000:22Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.It’s abundantly clear that shutting down this offense altogether is a pipe dream. Aside from tying for the most efficient regular-season offense of all-time, the Warriors scored at least 113 points in all five games of the NBA Finals. You also need to be able to score on them to have a chance. This past season, it often took a team that moved the ball4Eight of the Warriors’ 15 losses came to teams that ranked in the top 12 in the league in passes thrown per game. and shot well (opponents who walked away with victories hit 38 percent of their 3s against the Warriors, up from 31 percent in defeats) to win. Because of how the Warriors’ defense can smother an opponent, it also helps to push the ball in transition without turning it over too much (think Wizards or Clippers).Or, if you play a more deliberate style, you may be able to find points in half-court situations if you’re willing to set multiple screens that shed seconds off the shot clock (like Utah, which played at a snail’s pace but was among the NBA’s most efficient teams in late-clock scenarios). Then, of course, there are the Cavs, who, with James and Kyrie Irving, can create scoring opportunities for themselves regardless of how well the Warriors defend.But as we saw in Game 3: Even a duo going off for a combined 77 points might not be enough to win a single game against Golden State, let alone four in seven tries.It’s easy to look at Milwaukee’s and Utah’s rosters and see considerable upside5The Jazz, of course, need Gordon Hayward to re-sign with the club in order to continue their upward trajectory.. The same is true of Boston, which has the No. 1 pick in this loaded draft. But most contending clubs look at least one star away from truly competing with the Warriors in the next year or two, if not longer. The Spurs — who had a promising start to Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals before Kawhi Leonard was knocked out for the series — will become a greater challenger if they manage to pry Chris Paul away from the Clippers. And Cleveland, if it manages to find solid, attentive wing defenders somehow, may be capable of doing better next season.In the meantime, don’t be surprised if more teams than usual decide to take the long view in the years to come. The Warriors can be beaten, but doing that requires near-perfection — something almost no other team can produce anywhere near often enough to unseat them.
It took seven back-and-forth games, but the NBA’s most perplexing team will continue to confuse observers — and statistical models — for at least one more round.The Cleveland Cavaliers ensured that by beating the Indiana Pacers 105-101 in Sunday’s Eastern Conference quarterfinal finale, earning LeBron James a trip to the second round for the 13th time in his storied career. James was incredible in Game 7 on Sunday, with 45 points (on 64 percent shooting), 9 rebounds and 7 assists. The performance capped one of his greatest series ever; he led the Cavs in points, assists and rebounds over these seven games against Indiana.But the Cavs’ big questions are still unanswered. Can Cleveland keep advancing while asking so much of its best player? And is this team really still good enough to contend for a championship? This series provided few insights.When James finally got a little help in Game 7, it came in the unlikely form of center Tristan Thompson. Despite scoring only 3 points (in 24 minutes) during Games 1-6, Thompson produced a crucial double-double (15 points and 10 rebounds) in Game 7. But on the whole, James’s teammates were still not efficient Sunday, shooting just 16-for-49 from the field to finish off a series in which they made only 38.8 percent of their shots — even as James himself shot an impressive 55.3 percent from the field.In fact, for all of James’s heroics, the argument could be made that the Cavs were the least-convincing winner of any playoff series in modern history. (Going back to 1984, when the NBA playoffs expanded to 16 teams.) Before Sunday, no team in that period had won a series while being outscored by more than 34 total points — a “record” that belonged to the 1990 Portland Trail Blazers, for their win over the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference finals. Despite winning Game 7 by four, the Cavs were outscored in the series by 40 points, the worst total point differential for a winning club in a series since 1984.1Yes, 34 points of that differential came in Game 6 alone, a massive Pacers blowout. But the Cavs were also outplayed for far longer stretches of the series than they dominated: They won just 11 of the series’ 28 total quarters.Now the Cavs will advance to face the top-seeded Toronto Raptors, and once again the stats have major doubts about their ability to win. Their defense is historically weak by the standards of a champion. Our CARM-Elo model gives Cleveland a 29 percent chance of knocking off the Raptors and an 11 percent chance of making the Finals. The logic there is clear: If the Cavs struggled against the Pacers with home-court advantage, why should they be favored without it against a Toronto team that was 6.1 points per game better than the Pacers during the regular season?Then again, the Cavs are, well, the Cavs. They’ve eliminated Toronto in each of the past two postseasons, by a combined margin of 8 games to 2. They have the LeBron trump card to play in any crucial game. (After Sunday, James is the all-time NBA leader with 34.9 career points per game in Game 7s.) A James-led team has represented the East in the NBA Finals every single season since 2011. All signs point to that streak ending this year — except it hasn’t ended the past few times that all signs pointed to it ending.No matter what happens next, though, let’s appreciate the amazing show LeBron put on in Game 7 against Indiana. It was the kind of performance reserved for history’s greatest players, and the Cavs needed every bit of it to extend their season and keep on confounding the stats deeper into yet another spring.Check out our latest NBA predictions.
OSU redshirt junior tight end Marcus Baugh (85) carries the ball during the first half of the Buckeyes 62-3 win against Maryland on Nov. 12. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo EditorCOLLEGE PARK, Md. — In 2014, Ohio State was blessed with the No. 4 spot in the College Football Playoff poll. They received scrutiny and were bashed by opposing fans, but ultimately climbed college football’s highest summit to win it all. And now, it could happen again.On Saturday night, No. 2 Clemson lost to Pittsburgh on a last second field goal. After a season of close games and nail-biting finished, it seems coach Dabo Swinney’s luck finally ran out. And for the Buckeyes, that is a blessing.Following Saturday’s 62-3 win over Maryland, redshirt junior defensive end Tyquan Lewis overheard a reporter talking about the loss. Unaware of what had transpired at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, South Carolina during his post-game interviews, he could hardly contain his excitement.“Clemson lost?!” he said.With the Buckeyes perched at No. 5, and Clemson losing to an unranked opponent, OSU will be in prime position once again with the season winding down. The Buckeyes need two more wins to solidify their spot in the playoff.Junior H-back Curtis Samuel said now is the time to go for it, and keep themselves in the top-tier of college football.“It’s just that time of year that you’re getting closer to the playoffs and closer to championship games and we know we got to step it up and come out here every day and get right on them and put up numbers,” he said.The numbers OSU has put up the past two weeks have been eye-popping. 124 total points, 1,171 total yards, and just 380 yards and six points allowed.Prepare yourself for a wild ride.
Then-Penn State interim football coach Larry Johnson sits courtside at the Bryce Jordan Center in State College, Pa., Jan. 8. The Minnesota Gophers defeated the Penn State Nittany Lions, 68-65.Credit: Courtesy of MCTOhio State lost defensive line coach Mike Vrabel to the Houston Texans of the NFL last week, but it looks as if coach Urban Meyer hardly wasted any time finding his replacement.The Buckeyes are on the verge of hiring former Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson to replace Vrabel, according to a report by SI.com late Monday.An OSU spokesman told The Lantern Tuesday, however, that the move may not be official.“I don’t have any information that I can share at this time,” the spokesman said in an email.Johnson spent 19 seasons with the Nittany Lions, and the last 15 as the team’s defensive line coach. He helped develop seven first-team All-Americans in State College, Pa., including the No. 1 pick in the 2000 NFL Draft in Courtney Brown.Johnson was offered the defensive line coaching job by new Penn State coach James Franklin, but declined, according to PennLive.Vrabel announced his departure from OSU via Twitter Thursday, and the former Buckeye great is set to coach the linebackers with the Texans. Houston announced the hiring of former Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien to head coach Jan. 3.
Junior guard Shannon Scott (3) attempts a layup during a game against Nebraska March 14 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. OSU won, 71-67.Credit: Shelby Lum / Photo editorINDIANAPOLIS — It felt all too familiar.Ohio State, after jumping out to an eight-point lead in the first half against Nebraska in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals Friday, had all but reverted back to the form Buckeye fans have grown accustomed to seeing this season.A 36-10 run by the Cornhuskers stretching from the end of the first half, into the second saw the Buckeyes lead disappear, and the good feelings of shooting the ball well in the first half along with it.But this time was different. This time, the Buckeyes (25-8, 11-8) found their legs and a little something extra down the stretch and roared back to beat Nebraska (19-12, 11-8), 71-67.Instead of wilting late in the game like they have so often this season — at Michigan State, at Nebraska and against Michigan to name a few games — OSU found it’s bearing and was able to put the wheels back on to secure a win. It appears the Buckeyes could have finally taken that much needed needed step forward to team maturity at this, the most important time of the season.“I hope so … But we need to stop going through things like this,” senior guard Aaron Craft said on his team’s late-game mojo. “Competition gets better, competition gets better every game. We can’t expect to turn it on when we want to. That’s how we lost in the NCAA Tournament last year.”The game OSU’s leader was referring to was the 70-66 loss to Wichita State in the Elite Eight, where the Buckeyes trailed by as many as 20 before an attempted comeback fell just short and their season ended.Although the Cornhuskers only stretched the lead to 18 Friday, a similar comeback was needed by OSU.Junior guard Shannon Scott — who committed four turnovers just in the first half alone — helped spark the rally along with sophomore guard Amedeo Della Valle, scoring six of his nine points in the game’s final 20 minutes.Scott said the mindset of the team when they looked up at the scoreboard and found itself down 18 points was to just take things one step at a time.“We know there’s not 20-point baskets, so we’ve got to take every possession one at a time,” Scott said after the win. “We’ve got to get a stop. And once we started doing that, we really got pride in our offense and that really got us going.”After committing just three turnovers in the first half, Nebraska coughed up the ball eight more times after halftime due in large part to the Buckeyes’ full court pressure.“It seemed to work pretty well for us, especially down the stretch making them call timeouts and stuff like that,” Craft said of the press. “It can get tiring as well. It’s kind of a hit and miss, but if you got the adrenaline rolling like we did you kind of feed off that.”With the adrenaline pumping through their veins, OSU made the plays it needed down the stretch — including hitting eight straight free throws in the final two minutes after shooting 9-20 prior to then in the game.“I think in this tournament, as you saw, players make plays. Even for Nebraska, some of the plays those guys made were, wow,” OSU coach Thad Matta said. “But I think that you hope at this point of the season, all the work you’ve done … can come into fruition. You’ve seen it across the country. There’s been a lot of ups and downs in these tournament.”Such up and down trends during the course of a game can cause frustration for any player — Buckeye leading scorer junior forward LaQuinton Ross was pegged with his third technical foul in seven games after shoving a Nebraska player after a play — but this time OSU came away on the right side of things when it was all said and done.“We’ve been in this situation before with Nebraska, Michigan State and other times in the season as well but we were able to just keep our composure down the stretch,” junior center Amir Williams said postgame. “We didn’t panic, continued to fight and we were able to come away with it.”With a showdown with top-seeded rival Michigan looming Saturday in the semifinals at 1:40 p.m., avoiding a stretch like the one that caused them to fall behind by 18 to the Cornhuskers is critical. But doing so will be easier senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said, because of where the team is mentally.“We’re a lot different, we’re not self destructive and falling apart. We’re not selfish anymore, we’re fighting for one another and that’s all that matters for us,” Smith Jr. said after the game. “We’re playing for Ohio State and the guys in this locker room, at this point we’re the only ones that matter and as long as we can look each other in the eyes after the game we’re happy with that.”
Freshman outside hitter Miles Johnson (13) hits the ball during a match against Grand Canyon Feb. 21 at St. John Arena. OSU won, 3-1.Credit: Jonathan McAllister / Lantern photographerA poor start doomed the Ohio State men’s volleyball team against Harvard.OSU lost its fourth consecutive match in a 3-2 decision against the Crimson Tuesday.The loss put the Buckeyes at 8-12 for the season.OSU was lacking in certain areas, which led to the nail-biting defeat, freshman setter Christy Blough said.“We need to start our matches stronger. We were not able to get a good start in this match. We were able to come back in the middle, but still lost it in the end,” he said.The Buckeyes lost the first two sets, but came back with a win in the next two sets. Coach Pete Hanson said the team barely missed its chance to win it in the end set.“We just couldn’t make the last couple of plays and Harvard did,” Hanson said.Redshirt-freshman outside hitter Alex Judkins said OSU played physically at the net and its blocking skills were in action tonight, which contributed to the comeback mid-match.Hanson said the Buckeyes still need to become more consistent.“We are such a young team. We ride a wave, we are up and down,” he said. “We just have to get our play at a steady pace.”The Buckeyes were missing one of their top players, redshirt-junior opposite Andrew Lutz. Hanson said getting the starting line-up back on the court could result in a turnaround for the Buckeyes.Three players contributed double digit kills for the Buckeye offense: redshirt-freshman middle blocker Driss Guessous had 18, freshman outside hitter Miles Johnson added 16, and junior outside hitter Michael Henchy contributed 14 kills.The Buckeyes still have a lot to work on as a team, but Hanson said time and experience should help.“Setting the tone earlier is something we need to do a better job of. We need certain guys to step up and take charge at the right time,” he said.OSU is next set to play Ball State Sunday in Muncie, Ind., at 4 p.m.
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