With offense stalling, Ohio State looking for more 3-point attempts

Sean McNeil arrived at Ohio State with a hard-earned reputation and a green light the size of Value City Arena.

A three-year contributor at West Virginia, McNeil had connected on 155 3-pointers for the Mountaineers while hitting at a 36.8% clip. When Malaki Branham took his prolific scoring talents to the NBA, McNeil was recruited in his place with a stated goal of bringing offense and stretching the floor in his lone season for the Buckeyes.

So far, he’s largely lived up to the billing. But with the Ohio State offense still sputtering and the threat of a second five-game losing streak looming as Northwestern comes to town Thursday night, coach Chris Holtmann is looking for more 3-point shooting – from McNeil, and from the rest of the team.

“Listen, we need to take more 3s,” Holtmann said after Sunday’s 77-69 loss at Michigan. “I’ve said that to our guys. There’s certain guys that need to take more 3s. Sean needs to take two or three more 3s a game.”

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The numbers bear Holtmann out. As of Tuesday night, the Buckeyes were 27th nationally in 3-point field-goal percentage, having knocked down 37.6% of their attempts (159 for 423). But those 423 attempts among Ohio State’s 1,402 total shots mean that the Buckeyes are only taking 30.2% of their shots from beyond the arc, the 332nd highest ratio in the country according to KenPom.com.

When the Buckeyes take 3s, they generally make them at a good clip. So why aren’t they taking more? McNeil said it’s a blend of needing to be more aggressive as well as teams not giving them many openings.

“Transition’s probably a big thing, getting easy looks in transition when we run,” he said. “(We) did a better job of that against Michigan. Our pace was a lot better. I think it’s a combination of both, being a little more aggressive but also getting good looks at the same time.”

The Buckeyes have slipped below 50.0% on two-point field-goal percentage and enter the Northwestern game having hit on 488 of 977 shots inside the arc, good for 49.9%. Of those 997 attempts, 538 of them are classified as “far twos” as tracked by BartTorvik.com – two-point shots that were not registered as dunks, layups or tip-ins.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Ohio State ranked 144th in two-point field-goal percentage on “far twos,” connecting on 39% of them. Broken down by close twos, far twos and 3s, the Buckeyes have taken their most shots between the paint and the 3-point line.

It’s not an easy way to make a living, and the results have borne that out. After a 73-57 win at Northwestern on New Year’s Day, the Buckeyes were 10-3 overall and had scored at least 70 points in 11 of those games. In the 10 games since, Ohio State has scored more than 70 points only twice while going 1-9.

McNeil hasn’t been Ohio State’s most prolific or accurate 3-point shooter. First-year forward Brice Sensabaugh leads the team in all 3-point shooting categories (48 for 103, 46.6%) while classmate Bruce Thornton is shooting 39.4% (26 for 66) from deep.

McNeil came to Ohio State not just to shoot 3s, but to also show that he had more in his offensive arsenal. His 1.4 assists per game are tied for his career high, but his average of 4.3 3-point attempts this season is his lowest since his first year with the Mountaineers, when he only averaged 15.0 minutes per game. His 38.0% mark from deep this year is just shy of his career high of 38.8% set during the 2020-21 season.

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Last year, McNeil said he spent a lot of time with the ball in his hands. His shots this year are coming in a different manner.

“Here, we run more sets to get the ball into my hands and then when I do get it it’s more of a catch-and-shoot type of thing, which is probably the best look,” he said. “Be more aggressive on the catch, be ready to play.

“This year, my volume’s probably down a little bit compared to years before but teams know I’m able to shoot the ball and score a little bit off the bounce. They’re obviously playing that the way they need to.”

The question is if it can increase. McNeil pointed out that forcing up contested 3-pointers won’t do much to help the team and that the best option would be to get more open looks in transition. Holtmann said that will come McNeil and his teammates run harder in transition opportunities and also said the coaches could start trying to utilize McNeil more as a screener to free him up for a few extra shots.

“Guys have to screen for him, but he has to screen a little bit more,” Holtmann said. “And then, we’ve been saying it here for months now, Sean’s got to get some more in transition than what he gets. We’ve got to find him more and he’s got to run harder. He’s got to get some cleaner looks in transition than he’s been getting.”



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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Can Sean McNeil, Ohio State's long-distance shooters buck struggles?