In the week leading up to Christmas, it was a tail of two games for the Ohio State Buckeyes on the hardwood. They started off the week with a convincing win over Youngstown State, but that high almost become yet another low after they barely beat UNC-Asheville. Then again, a win is a win and the Bucks were a perfect 2-0 this past week, taking their 10-3 record into Big Ten play.
Buckeyes demolish Youngstown State, 77-40
All season, Ohio State has played down (or up) to their competition, depending on how good (or bad) their opponent was. Tuesday night, they (finally) didn’t do that, and in one of their most impressive games of their season to date. Ohio State took care of business against their in-state foe, in a decisive 77-40 victory.
The Buckeyes were sloppy at times, but after they scored 12 of the game’s first 13 points, they never looked back. They held an impressive 42-14 halftime lead, basically taking control of the game with 20 minutes still to go. In the second half, Ohio State’s lead grew to 36 and never was less than 26, taking control of the game from start to finish.
Four Buckeyes scored in double figures, with three scoring exactly 15 points: Jae’Sean Tate (15 points, seven rebounds, three assists), Kam Williams (15 points, two rebounds, one steal), Keita Bates-Diop (15 points, three rebounds, one assist), and Trevor Thompson (11 points, 15 rebounds, three blocks). Thompson’s double-double was his third in his last five games.
Although they were able to put up 77 points, Ohio State’s defense was the No. 1 reason why they won the game. They forced Youngstown State to shoot just 21 percent from the field and 10 percent from beyond the arc, by far their best defensive game of the season. The scarlet and gray also dominated the boards, winning the rebounding battle, 54-35.
Williams was proud of how he and the rest of the team were able to defend the high-powered Penguins the entire game.
“Well, we knew coming in they were a very high powered offense team. They average like 79 points a game. We just wanted to continue what we do every game and continue with our defensive system. Just to stay solid. When we get into gambling and doing things that are uncharacteristic to our system. We start shooting ourselves in the foot and we have to stop doing that. We just have to stay solid and play Ohio State defense for forty minutes. I feel like when we have the ability to do that we will be fine.”
In the win, the Buckeyes struggled from the free-throw line yet again, making just 10-of-17 (59 percent) from the foul stripe. Luckily, they were able to shoot 50 percent from the field to still blowout the Penguins.
To start the game, starting big-man Micah Potter rolled his ankle on his opponent’s foot on the tip off, something that many have never seen before. He didn’t return to the game. Head coach Thad Matta commented on the strange sequence following the game.
“At first I was thinking ‘what the heck just happened.’ But I think the guys did a great job of sticking to what we planned to do tonight defensively. The execution was really good at times offensively. During halftime we told our guys to build our system, keep building our system.”
Ohio State barely escapes UNC-Asheville, 79-77
For the Buckeyes, it was a tail of two games this past week. After taking care of the Penguins, they (once again) played down to their competition Thursday night against UNC-Asheville. Although they struggled for much of the game, Ohio State was still able to survive and come away with a 79-77 win before beginning their Christmas break.
Holding a 36-33 lead at halftime after forcing UNC-Asheville to make just 5-of-19 two-point shots in the first 20 minutes, the scarlet and gray scored the first 10 of 12 points in the second half to take a 46-35 lead. Unfortunately, they allowed the UNC-Asheville to get back in the game and eventually tie the game at 64 with just under six minutes remaining.
After having some early season struggles, Lyle proved that he can be a player that the Buckeyes can count on down the stretch. With Ohio State trailing, 69-67, with just under three minutes remaining, the guard went on his own 8-0 run to help his team take a 75-71 lead with 47.9 seconds remaining, one that they never looked back on.
Matta was obviously very happy with how his point guard played down the stretch.
“We told him to do that, starting back on October 1 and tonight he finally did it. It was good to see. Those were some big shots for us in the end.”
Four OSU players scored double-digits and six had at least seven points: Tate (17 points, six rebounds, three assists, two steals), JaQuan Lyle (17 points, two rebounds, six assists), Thompson (14 points, 10 rebounds, one block), and Marc Loving (11 points, three rebounds, three assists, two blocks). After not having one the first seven games of the season, it was Thompson’s fourth double-double in his last six games.
Ohio State allowed the Bulldogs to shoot 44 percent from the field and 46 percent from three-point range. Matta wasn’t happy with his team’s performance Thursday night.
“We weren’t very good tonight. You have to give credit to our opponent because they shot the heck out of the ball. We just weren’t as sharp as we need to be defensively and it poured into our offense as well.”
Throughout their non-conference season, the Buckeyes struggled to find an identity. Could they count on their defense? Do they have a fast-paced or slow-it-down-type of offense? Who can they count on to put the ball in the basket?
With conference season set to begin, Ohio State has high hopes in the Big Ten, now they will just have to find an identity and consistently play at the highest level.
Coming up this week:
Sunday at Illinois (10-3), 7 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network