It took Ohio State about 15 minutes to find its bearings before the Buckeyes put it together in their exhibition opener against Walsh Tuesday night.
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The Buckeyes, ranked fourth in both the AP and ESPN/USA Today coaches preseason polls, trailed the Cavs by as many as six points twice in the first half. But OSU closed the first half on a 17-3 run to go up 39-30 and went on from there.
OSU, led by 25 points and six rebounds from preseason All-American Deshaun Thomas, cruised to a 83-71 win over Walsh before 13,474 at Value City Arena.
“This is the first team I’ve ever had that plays harder in practice than they do in games,” said OSU coach Thad Matta, whose team has been practicing for 2-1/2 weeks. “I couldn’t figure that out. We weren’t as effective offensively or defensively as we need to be. We had some moments but couldn’t sustain anything. This shows us we have a lot of work to do.”
Thomas, named an AP first-team All-American on Monday, was 9 of 17 from the floor (1 of 6 on threes) and also chipped in six rebounds and two steals in 32 minutes.
“It felt great to be back on the floor and playing,” Thomas said.
Matta added, “I thought Deshaun played well. He was 1 of 6 on threes, but he had some good lookc and he had been shooting the ball effectively behind the line in practice. He has a knack for finding the ball.
“We didn’t run too much on offense tonight. When we did, we got him some pretty good looks off of it.”
OSU has three returning starters – Thomas, point guard Aaron Craft and shooting guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. – from last year’s 31-8 team that won a share of the Big Ten title and advanced to the NCAA Final Four.
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Those three were joined in the starting lineup by LaQuinton Ross at the wing and Amir Williams at center. Matta then rotated Sam Thompson and Evan Ravenel in as starters at those spots, respectively, to start the second half.
Matta, starting his ninth year with the Buckeyes, used 10 players, all of whom scored in the game. He mixed and matched combinations that he may not otherwise use in the regular season and that led to some consistency issues at times.
Ross added 13 points and five rebounds, connecting on 4 of 9 shots from the floor (including 2 of 5 on threes).
“This game was a bit of a test for LaQuinton,” Matta said. “It was the first time he really played in front of a crowd and against a different opponent. I thought he played well and did some good things for us.”
Ravenel had 11 points and four rebounds, hitting all five of his shots from the floor. Thompson had 11 points, four assists, three blocks and two steals.
Smith and Shannon Scott each had six points, while Craft had five points, six assists and two steals.
Jeff Copeland led Walsh with 16 points, while Kenny Kornowski added 12 points.
This was an uneven effort, to say the least, for the Buckeyes. They were outrebounded 20-13 and committed eight turnovers in the first half. The defense suffered in the second 20 minutes as Walsh hit 54.8 percent of its shots (17 of 31) after halftime.
Craft had 5 points, 6 assists in win
“Obviously, we can play better basketball,” Craft said afterwards. “We need to learn some lessons from this. At halftime, we tried to see if we could learn some of those things. Little things add up to big things when the season comes around.
“We all took some plays off today and that’s something we can’t do. Our identity on the defensive end has to change. We have to go back and work on it.”
Walsh came out red hot. The Cavs hit six of their first eight shots – including three three-pointers – to go up 15-9 with 14:34 left in the first half. Ohio State trimmed the margin to one at 17-16 on a three-pointer by Ross with 10:02 left in the first half.
But threes by Hardin and DuPont helped Walsh go back up six at 23-17 with 7:35 left in the half. Walsh still led 27-22 after a jumper by Kenny Kornowski with 5:34 left.
This is when the Buckeyes came out of their offensive slumber and picked it up. Craft dished to Amir Williams for a dunk. Ross then drove and hit a bank shot in transition. Thomas completed a pair of three-point plays to give the Buckeyes a 32-27 lead. Shannon Scott then had a driving bank shot and also had a pull-up jumper.
Craft tied up Walsh’s Hardin in the backcourt, gaining possession for the Buckeyes. Thomas missed a three-pointer, but Thompson rebounded it. The ball eventually found Craft, whose three-point shot at the buzzer bounced around and fell in for a 39-30 halftime lead for the home team.
The Buckeyes quickly got the lead to double digits early in the second half. Smith splashed a three off a Thompson pass for a 44-30 lead with 19:32 left. Thomas and Thompson stuck consecutive jumpers to put the Buckeyes up 54-37 with 16:23 left.
The Buckeyes seemed content to trade baskets with the Cavs over the next several minutes, allowing Walsh to get as close as 11 on a couple of occasions.
The defense keyed a spurt as Smith stole the ball and went in for a dunk. Craft then stole it and dished it ahead. Ravenel corralled an errant alley oop pass for Thompson and scored for a 74-58 lead with 5:27 left.
Thomas scored on the baseline for a 76-60 lead with 4:10 left. The lead went to 18 at 78-60 on a score inside by Trey McDonald with 2:59 left.
* The 6-11 Williams played 14 minutes and had two points, five rebounds and five blocked shots at center.
“The problem with Amir and the blocks he got was they were all because our defense had broken down,” Matta said. “He didn’t have any on the hooks their big guy was shooting over him. But he saved us, which I’m excited about.”
* For OSU, freshman guard Amedeo Della Valle and sophomore forward Trey McDonald rounded out the scoring with two points each. Della Valle missed both of his three-point attempts, but hit a pair of free throws.
* This is the fifth straight year Ohio State has played Walsh in an exhibition. Walsh will move to the NCAA Division II level next year. Walsh was 26-5 last year and won the American Mideast Conference title.
* The Buckeyes open regular season play next Friday (Nov. 9) against Marquette in the Carrier Classic at Charleston, S.C. That game, set for a 7 p.m. start, will be televised by the NBC Sports Network.
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