Ohio State basketball: Buckeyes seek No. 2 scorer

RUSTY MILLER AP Sports Writer Published:

COLUMBUS (AP) -- A lot of teams would love to have the leading scorer in their conference.

No. 14 Ohio State has Deshaun Thomas, averaging 23.2 points a game in conference play to lead the Big Ten by a wide margin.

The problem for the Buckeyes, who have had difficulty gaining much traction once conference play began, is that they are still on the lookout for somebody to pick up the points left after Thomas gets his allotment.

"Other teams have that second- or third-leading scorer," Thomas said Monday as the Buckeyes (13-4, 3-2 Big Ten) went through their final paces before hosting Iowa (13-5, 2-3) on Tuesday night. "With the offense we've got, anybody can score. Everybody thinks it's a play running for me, but it's not. In our offense, it's for everybody to get a shot off."

The thing is, they often do not. Or, at least they don't make it if they do get a shot.

No Ohio State player one other than Thomas is averaging more than 8 points a game in conference play. So opposing defenses can concentrate on him and take their chances that even a wide-open teammate may not hurt them.

"With the offenses that we run, there's definitely multiple options and multiple places for different guys to score," said point guard Aaron Craft, who is one of three starters not shooting even 40 percent from the field in conference action. "At times we don't look at those options. We sort of focus on one part of the play -- and that's part of the problem."

A prime example came Saturday when Thomas, despite heavy pressure from No. 13 Michigan State, scored 28 points -- but the rest of the team matched him with 28 points in a 59-56 loss.

Coach Thad Matta, whose new Ohio State contract was announced earlier on Monday, said it was mandatory that the Buckeyes get their points by picking their spots and taking advantage of all the attention that Thomas gets.

"It's probably going to lend itself to really playing off each other," he said. "That's one of the things that we have to continue to do is to play off of each other, making simpler plays, and kind of letting things unfold."

Craft and his fellow point guard, Shannon Scott, have not established themselves as perimeter shooters that opposing teams need to respect. Likewise, the Buckeyes aren't getting much on a consistent basis from guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. or wings Sam Thompson and LaQuinton Ross.

Another glaring shortcoming has been the lack of production from the post position, where Amir Williams, Evan Ravenel and Trey McDonald are combining for only 11.2 points and 7.6 rebounds a game in the Big Ten.

Thomas, for his part, isn't just chucking up shots. He had done a much better job of finding open players when he's being double-teamed. He believes the problem can be corrected.

"I have faith in my guys," he said. "There are guys on this team who are capable of scoring in double digits every night. We just have to be patient within our offense and run with great pace. Anybody can be that second scorer."

Craft said that perhaps the scoring load can be distributed across several other players instead of just having a single, solid No. 2 scorer.

"It doesn't necessarily have to be one of us. I think we have a lot of guys who are capable and who have shown that they're capable throughout this year," he said. "It's just finding more consistency and not having someone score a lot and then not score much the next night. And hopefully DT can continue to do what he's doing and we'll be in business."

Matta signed through 2019

COLUMBUS -- Ohio State coach Thad Matta has agreed to a revised contract which will give him a 10 percent increase to more than $3.2 million annually and includes academic bonuses and more stringent wording about NCAA violations.

With years he had already earned through job performance, the five-time Big Ten champion coach will be under contract through July 2019.

Matta's first eight Ohio State teams have each won at least 20 games and are 13-4 this season and ranked No. 14. He has a record of 234-69 with the Buckeyes after taking over a team that was on probation.

"One of the things I'm most proud of is what we've built here, from where we started," he said. "You look at what we've been able to accomplish, I'm a lot more proud of that than I am of a contract. I feel as blessed as I can be to be at Ohio State. I love this university. I'm extremely grateful in terms of what they have allowed me to do and how they've taken care of me."

Before coming to Ohio State, Matta was the head coach at his alma mater, Butler, for a year and for three seasons at Xavier. His career mark is 336-100.

Athletic director Gene Smith said he first approached Matta a year ago about updating his contract.

"Thad's done a marvelous job since he's been our coach," Smith said. "Competitively we know he's been highly successful, with five Big Ten championships including three in a row, three (conference) tournament championships, six NCAA appearances, two Final Four appearances including a championship game appearance, and winning the NIT. He's just done a phenomenal job."

The contract requires Matta to report anyone who "may potentially have violated" NCAA rules. That clarified wording which had been troublesome in contracts in the wake of violations committed by football coach Jim Tressel. As a result of major violations committed by Tressel, Ohio State is currently on NCAA probation and received a bowl ban after the 2012 football season.

"All of our contracts for coaches including mine have been modified to represent this language as a result of everything that we learned through our NCAA compliance issues," Smith said. "So we played it up. Every contract has been modified that way."

Matta said he was fine with the responsibility inherent with the new wording.

"First and foremost, all the things that are in there are things I live by in terms of my responsibility to this university," he said. "That's how I want to operate. I like having those in there."

Smith said the new contract puts Matta among the top-10 paid head coaches in the country. Buckeyes football coach Urban Meyer makes more than $4.1 million per season, also considered to be among the top 10 contracts in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Ohio State has eliminated complimentary cars for head coaches and the new contract stipulates Matta will receive a stipend of $1,200 a month for two cars. He will also get more hours on a private jet for recruiting purposes.

The board of trustees will consider the new contract, which was signed by both the university and Matta in mid-December 2012, at its meeting next week.

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