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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- As of late, when Ohio State has needed something big, the Buckeyes have tended go small.
The No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament's West Region, Ohio State (28-7, 13-5) will play in its fourth consecutive Sweet 16 on Thursday, as a result of its third round victory over Iowa State on Sunday. The Buckeyes' trip to Los Angeles, however, may not have been possible without the foresight and creativity of head coach Thad Matta.
With limited offensive production coming from OSU post players Amir Williams and Evan Ravenel, Matta has found himself relying at times on a non-traditional lineup that doesn't include a true center. With forwards Deshaun Thomas and LaQuinton Ross, point guards Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott, and either swingman Lenzelle Smith Jr. or Sam Thompson playing together, OSU might not always play players who mesh together into a typical starting five, but the Buckeyes have found success in its unique combination.
That was the case on Sunday, when Matta implemented the lineup in hopes of sparking an OSU run in what was a back-and-forth game with the Cyclones. The contest came down to a Craft game-winner with 0.5 seconds remaining, but the Buckeyes might not have even been in that position if not for the 17-7 run that they went on after the OSU coach subbed Ross in for Ravenel with 12:20 remaining in the game.
"I think that we were very, very nervous in this game with their ability to spread us out. We knew that there was going to come a time when we were going to play that lineup, that particular lineup," Matta said. "We'd actually talked about starting it at halftime. Those guys did a good job."
Despite its failure to fit into what's typically considered a normal lineup, the benefits of the Buckeyes small-ball group are evident. With Thomas, Craft, Smith, Thompson, and Ross, Ohio State possesses the ability to put four of its top five scorers on the floor, alongside Scott, who is emerging as a playmaker on both ends of the court.
"I thought Shannon Scott was as good as he could be today, which was tremendous in what he gave us," Matta said on Sunday.
Another reason for the unit's success has been the emergence of Ross, who scored 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting on Sunday. Playing the de-facto power forward position alongside Thomas at center, the 6-foot-8 sophomore seems more comfortable in the small-ball lineup, while meshing with the Buckeyes' leading scorer in Thomas.
"Our small group actually causes a mismatch problem for other teams. They was out there with their big, and they found that me and D.T. was able to go up against the fours and match up with them really well. It was great," Ross said. "Our small group has been producing a lot for us."
Thomas, himself, also seems to be a fan of Ohio State's small-ball lineup, which he claims doesn't change his role, so much as it just opens up new opportunities.
"I keep being me. Keep shooting, being aggressive, and looking for my teammates," Thomas said. "I'm still going to be me. That's what coach wants me to do."
Facing Arizona in the Sweet 16 on Thursday, opportunities to go small might harder for the Buckeyes to find, as the Wildcats possess a legitimate 7-foot center in Kaleb Tarczewski. Scott, however, remains confident that despite the opposition, Ohio State will manage to simultaneously put its best players on the court.
"We can use any lineup at anytime," Scott said. "We just gotta get the guys on the court that are producing at the time just to make the best decisions to get us back into the game.".
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