Crean: ‘Defensively we Never took them out of their Confort Zone’

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Leg cramps were the only thing that could stop Ohio State freshman guard D’Angelo Russell Sunday afternoon as he flirted with a triple-double in the Buckeyes’ 82-70 win against No. 23 Indiana. Russell left the game twice due to cramping but during the 32 minutes he played, he was the best player on the floor. His stat line was the best of any on Sunday: 22 points, 10 assists and six rebounds, all of which were team highs.

Overall, Russell outperformed fellow Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 honoree Yogi Ferrell and stole the show from James Blackmon Jr., who was held to nine points on 4-of-12 and might be his biggest competitor in the Big Ten Freshman of the Year race.

The lefty combo guard spent most of the game bringing the ball up the floor and initiating Ohio State’s offense while the team’s mainstay at point guard, Shannon Scott, played off the ball.

“The way he controlled the game in the first half was just unbelievable,” Scott said. “I have no problem going off the ball and letting him get the lead for us like he did. He did a great job out there.”

Russell repeatedly burned Indiana’s porous defense, whether it meant leaving his defender in the dust on the perimeter and taking the ball to the rim or finding an open teammate. And the Hoosiers didn’t have an answer for the freshman.

“D’Angelo is a gifted player and his vision is certainly one of the great gifts that he has, you know, as an athlete, as a basketball player,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “Defensively we never took them out of their comfort zone.”

Russell made 7-of-8 shots inside the arc and gave the Buckeyes breathing room with a pair of 3-pointers in quick succession after Yogi Ferrell cut their lead to six in the second half.

“I guess they forgot about me,” Russell said of his open looks from behind the arc. “I let the game come to me and I felt the cramps coming in so I tried to be careful.”

Crean said the bottom line defensively for the Hoosiers was that they never corralled Russell and Scott, who finished with 10 points and three assists. He praised Scott for his basketball I.Q. and ability to make the game easier for his teammates, adding that he expects the senior to have a long NBA career.

Ohio State coach Thad Matta said it’s a luxury to be able to switch between Russell and Scott at point guard. “They all feed off one another and it’s nice knowing you may have two point guards out there,” he said.

Together, the Buckeyes’ backcourt duo had 13 of the team’s 16 assists. Russell alone had more assists than Indiana had as a team.

“I can remember almost every one of them,” Crean said.

Russell’s unselfishness and court vision opened the floor for his teammates. It allowed the Buckeyes to give Indiana a taste of its own medicine — prolific ball movement and court spacing. Ohio State’s wings and big men took advantage of the cutting lanes in Indiana’s defense to get easy looks at the basket.

Jae’Sean Tate started for the second consecutive game and scored a career-high 20 points on 9-of-10 shooting. Forwards Marc Loving and Sam Thompson chipped in 12 and eight points, respectively.

“Those guys did a better job of cutting and getting in the line of vision for the passes than we did,” Crean said. “We never took them out of what they wanted to do, they never got uncomfortable and therefore everybody else on the team was a beneficiary of it.”

Without forwards Devin Davis and Hanner Mosquera-Perea, Indiana doesn’t have the luxury of significant size in its frontcourt to dictate how opponents run their offenses. Instead, the Hoosiers have to make up for their lack of size with aggressiveness and communication. On Sunday, both traits were absent, especially defensively.

Indiana’s longest streak of consecutive stops on defense in the second half was two possessions in a row.

“We don’t have the size to just come in and say we’re going to guard them ‘this way,’” Crean said. “We have to be able to do different things in the game. But they all involve aggressiveness and being smart and talking and things like that and we weren’t as good at that.”

Indiana lost its best rim protector when Mosquera-Perea went down with a right knee injury on Jan. 12. Without him, the Hoosiers will have to play harder, smarter and more creatively to keep opponents out of the paint.

“I think it starts with better ball pressure, it starts with better transition defense,” Crean said. “Whether you’re switching, whether you’re in a zone, whatever it is. Getting the lane cut off, getting somebody in front of the basket, there’s a lot of different things and we’ll continue to work on figuring them out because we’re not getting any bigger anytime soon.”

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