Buckeyes Jump Over Iona In Opener

It is safe to say that the good folks at the Columbia Broadcasting System can already start editing some highlights for the “One Shining Moment” video.

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Ohio State’s Sam Thompson – and his teammates – provided plenty of great footage Friday night as the second-seeded Buckeyes soared past No. 15 seed Iona 95-70 in an NCAA West Region second-round game before a raucous and partisan crowd at the University of Dayton Arena Friday night.

Thompson had four highlight reel dunks as the Buckeyes (27-7) cruised to the win.

Asked afterwards if he enjoys watching Thompson soar on his dunks, OSU coach Thad Matta said, “Oh, yeah. I still get blown away all the time. I haven’t seen it yet but the one alley oop was … wow.”

After winning the Big Ten tournament in three plodding games last weekend in Chicago, the Buckeyes found themselves unshackled against a quick and athletic Iona team.

Wing Deshaun Thomas led the Buckeyes with 24 points, connecting on 8 of 12 shots from the floor (3 of 3 on threes) and 5 of 6 at the foul line.

“It felt good coming out and hitting the first couple shots,” Thomas said. “I was ready, my teammates found me and it was a great gym to shoot in.”

Thompson added a career-high 20 points and 10 rebounds for OSU.

“Sam was very complete today,” Matta said. “The way he played in Chicago, he is starting to carry that over a little bit. His energy, with 20 and 10, he was good defensively with his length and did a good job of challenging shots.

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“He is starting to fall more and more in love with working on his game. That’s key for him.”

The alley oops – thrown by Shannon Scott and Aaron Craft – helped the Buckeyes jump on the Gaels.

“An alley oop is a great team play,” Thompson said. “It shows two guys on the same page offensively. Shannon and Aaron did such a great job getting into the teeth of the defense, having the defense collapse, and just letting me do the easy part and finishing it.

“It really gives our team a boost offensively and defensively and definitely gives the other team something to think about.”

It did not stop there: Lenzelle Smith Jr. also had 12 points. Evan Ravenel came off the bench to add 11 points and four rebounds. Scott had seven points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, while LaQuinton Ross had seven points and eight rebounds. Craft had four points, but also added seven assists and six steals.

“I thought he was everywhere,” Matta said of Craft. “We chart deflections and I don’t know how many times he got his hands on balls. He was active. He was everywhere. It was just a tremendous effort on his part.”

The Buckeyes, who stretched their winning streak to nine in a row, advance to meet the winner of No. 7 seed Notre Dame (25-9) and No. 10 seed Iowa State (22-11). That game will be on Sunday with the time determined early Saturday. Notre Dame and Iowa State were playing in Friday night’s second game at Dayton.

A win on Sunday would send the Buckeyes on to the West Regional at the Staples Center in Los Angeles March 28-30. OSU’s current string of three straight Sweet 16 appearances is its longest since the field was widened to 64 teams in 1985.

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In the West Region, third-seeded New Mexico, fourth-seeded Kansas State and fifth-seeded Wisconsin were all upset victims in the second round. But Matta isn’t taking anything for granted just yet.

“I think this – in this tournament, once you get into the arena, you can take the seeding out,” Matta said. “Anything is possible. From a standpoint of who is left or whatever, I know we are going to play a great opponent on Sunday and if we don’t come to play we won’t be moving on.”

Iona senior guard Lamont “Momo” Jones came into the game averaging 23.2 points per game for the Gaels (20-14), who won their last five games heading into the tournament. Jones, the MAAC player of the year, finished with nine points. He connected on just 3 of 14 shots (1 of 8 on threes) for the Gaels.

Craft was among the defenders who helped contain the high scoring Jones.

“This was about our team and how we needed to play defense together, and that's really how we did a good job of taking them out of their offense and kind of making them have to go one on one at times,” Craft said. “We did a good job of staying connected. We also weren't doing it at times, like Coach alluded to, but this time of year is about finding a way to win and moving on.”

Tavon Sledge led Iona with 20 points, while Sean Armand had 17 points and David Laury had 14 points. The Gaels shot just 35.4 percent (23 of 65), including just 21.4 percent (6 of 28) behind the three-point arc. Iona also committed 19 costly turnovers.

Freed from the rigors of Big Ten play, the Buckeyes shot out of the starting gate strong. The Buckeyes led 43-33 after an up-and-down first half. OSU led by as many as 19 at 27-8 with just under 10 minutes to go in the half. But Iona went on a 25-10 run to get it down to four before OSU regained control at the end of the half.

Thomas had 13 points and Thompson had 10 with a pair of nasty dunks in the first half for OSU.

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“We had seen a lot of upsets and we didn’t want to do that,” Thomas said. “We wanted to come out and set the tone early with a lot of passion. That’s what we did.”

Thompson added, “It was liberating to get out of the Big Ten and those 50- and 60-point games. We were able to get up and down the floor a little bit. We defended well and got some stops and we were able to run.”

Iona led 6-5 early after Jones beat everybody back for a transition layup.

This is where Ohio State went on a 22-8 run, scoring the game’s next 15 points to get it started. Thompson went baseline, hung in the air and banked it in. Thomas then found Amir Williams for a reverse. Thomas hit a step-in 15-footer. Craft then stole it from Iona’s Jones and flipped it backwards to Shannon Scott as he was falling out of bounds. Scott dribbled ahead and found Ravenel for a dunk.

Ravenel then stole an inbounds pass and scored, Thomas hit a three on the secondary break and Scott found Thompson for an alley oop dunk after a Thompson steal. OSU was up 20-6 with 12:49 left in the half.

“I got a lot of open dunks off our defense,” Thompson said. “When we are defending like that, we get those chances.”

After Iona’s David Laury scored on an inbounds play, the Buckeyes added seven more. Ravenel blocked a shot to start the break with LaQuinton Ross hitting Craft for a layup. Scott then drove for a layup before Thomas splashed a three from the left corner. OSU led 27-8 with 9:25 left in the half. At this point, Iona was 4 for 21 from the floor with six turnovers.

But this is where the Gaels dug in and went on their own 25-10 run. Jones hit a jumper and a three-pointer, Laury banked in a 16-footer, Laury had a jam and Armand hit a three. Iona’s Tre Bowman drove for a layup to cut the OSU lead to 37-33 with 1:30 left in the half.

“We had it up to 19 once, we wanted to get it back up there again,” Craft said of Iona’s rally. “We went through a stretch where we took quick shots. We needed to be patient and play Ohio State basketball.”

The Buckeyes answered back as Scott broke pressure and threw an oop to Thompson for an amazing one-handed dunk that brought down the house. Craft then drove and spun for a layup. Thompson was fouled on an offensive rebound with 2.6 seconds left. His two free throws capped the scoring for the half and put Ohio State up 43-33 at the break.

“We had a sizable lead there in the first half and they cut it down,” Matta said. “I thought we did a decent job of finishing the half. The big talk at halftime was we had to get off to a good start in the second half and bring some energy.”

The Buckeyes put the hammer down in the first five minutes of the second half, quickly getting the lead back out to 20 points.

Thompson hit a bank shot and a pair of free throws and Thomas splashed a three. Craft then had a steal and fed it ahead to Scott, who found Thompson for another spectacular dunk. Thomas converted a Craft steal into a reverse, Shannon Scott hit a three off a Craft assist and Ravenel completed a three-point play for a 62-42 lead with 15:01 left.

Ross hit a three and Thomas drove the lane for a layup and a 73-49 lead with 11:00 left. The lead went to 25 with Thomas getting a layup off a Ross assist to make it 76-51. It went to 27 on a Ross drive that made it 80-53 with 8:29 left.

Amedeo Della Valle hit a pair of free throws with 4:32 left for OSU’s biggest lead at 30 points, 88-58.

Also Notable

* Thomas has scored 18 or more points in 21 games this season. Thomas has scored at least 20 points in 13 games this season.

This was also a big day for Thomas as his son celebrated his first birthday and was on hand at UD Arena.

“I was very happy to see Deshaun play as efficiently as he did tonight,” Matta said. “We spent a lot of time this week with film and extra shots. We know that our team needs him to play his best basketball if we are going to continue to advance.”

* OSU’s point total eclipsed the previous season-high of 91 against Kansas City.

* Thompson eclipsed his previous career high of 19 points against Nebraska in the Big Ten tournament.

* Ohio State shot 80.0 percent from the free throw line (20-25).

* This is OSU’s seventh NCAA trip in nine seasons under Matta. Under Matta, OSU is now 15-6 in NCAA Tournament games. Matta guided the 2007 OSU team to the national championship game before it lost to defending national champion Florida. Last year, the Buckeyes won the East Region and advanced to the Final Four before losing to Kansas. Matta’s overall record as a college coach in the NCAA is 21-10.

Including conference tournaments, the NCAA and the NIT, Matta’s teams are 54-16 all-time in postseason play as a college coach and 39-11 in the postseason at OSU.

* This is the fourth time Ohio State has opened the NCAA Tournament in Dayton, just over an hour from the Columbus campus. OSU is now 4-2 all-time in NCAA games in Dayton. The Buckeyes defeated Towson State and Georgia Tech in 1991, defeated Davidson and lost to Georgetown in 2006 and lost to Siena in 2009.

* Since the NCAA Tournament went to 64 teams in 1985, Ohio State is now 14-2 in its tournament opener. The losses were to Utah State in 2001 and Siena in 2009.

* No. 2 seeds are usually a lock in their tournament opener. Since 1985, No. 2 seeds are now 109-7 against No. 15 seeds in their tournament opener. Two No. 2 seeds lost last year, though (Duke and Missouri) and Georgetown fell to Florida-Gulf Coast tonight.

* Ohio State is now 2-1 all-time against Iona and 5-3 all-time against current members of the MAAC.

* Coming off the Big Ten tournament win, Ohio State moved up three spots in the final regular season polls released Monday. OSU is seventh in the Associated Press poll and sixth in the USA Today coaches poll.

* The Buckeyes will either face No. 7 seed Notre Dame (25-9) or No. 10 seed Iowa State (22-11) in the third round on Sunday.

* Click here for the box score from OSU-Iona.

Press Conference Transcript

Here are the transcripts of the postgame press conferences with Matta as well as Craft and Thompson.

COACH MATTA: Proud of our team. I thought that, when you play a team like Iona, they're never out of the basketball game, and just from the standpoint we got off to a pretty good start, give them credit, they got back on us.
We lost our focus, our concentration a little bit. I thought the start of the second half was the big key, I think a 9 0 run, whatever it was. That was huge for us because that was the thing we wanted to come out and try to make a difference to start the second half.
They play a unique style. I thought our guys did a good job of handling the pressure and finishing the shots that we had. Great thing is we're playing again on Sunday.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student athletes.

Q. Aaron, I'm not sure if you were made aware yesterday what Momo Jones said outside the locker room, that he didn't think that they'd have much trouble with you and running their offense against you and Shannon and if that possibly made you want to show with your actions that they might have a little bit of trouble.
AARON CRAFT: Didn't hear anything specific. They were doing you know, there's articles and things like that were coming out here, a couple quotes here and there. We didn't want to make it a one on one type game. This was about our team and how we needed to play defense together, and that's really how we did a good job of taking them out of their offense and kind of making them have to go one on one at times.
We did a good job of staying connected. We also weren't doing it at times, like Coach alluded to, but this time of year is about finding a way to win and moving on. So we get to play again. That's what it's all about.

Q. For Sam and then also Aaron, what does an alley oop like that do to you guys, to the other team, and how difficult is it? Do you just have to throw it in the air or what? It looked like it was headed for the pep band, the one from Scott. Could you talk about that dunk.
COACH MATTA: Well, when you get up there, you just have to find I would go in. You've got to get your feet set, and I always tell guys, just throw the ball in the air a lot like Sam there.
AARON CRAFT: I don't think you ever called one in your life.
SAM THOMPSON: An alley oop is a great team play. It shows two guys on the same page offensively. Shannon and Aaron did such a great job getting into the teeth of the defense, having the defense collapse, and just letting me do the easy part and finishing it.
It really gives our team a boost offensively and defensively and definitely gives the other team something to think about.
AARON CRAFT: It would be a little easier if Sam could jump a little higher. Sometimes you've got to pinpoint passes for him, but, no, Sam is actually one of the better ones I've ever played with. He's got a pretty wide radius from the center of his body you can throw the ball. You can see that tonight.
If he's not going to be able to dunk it, he's going to go up and catch it regardless. It's all about Sam and going up there and doing it. That's what it's always about. He's the man.

Q. Just curious, you guys are now on a nine game winning streak. A lot of the national media attention is on Indiana, then it was on Michigan, then Michigan State, then back to Indiana. Do you guys feel you're still a little bit under the radar as far as what you're capable of?
AARON CRAFT: If we're under the radar, I don't think we notice it too much. Sometimes you have a little extra pressure if you're like that team always in the spotlight. I think we've done a great job of really relying on one another and really kind of being there for each other.
That's what it takes to be a team. Ever since the last time we lost, we kind of had our backs against the wall and didn't have anyone else to believe in ourselves but us, and that's really helped our mindset going into the last few games that we played.
Everyone's doing their job. We're not playing perfect, but we're covering for each other, and that's what it's about.

Q. Iona coach said that he didn't think that his team possibly was fully aware that you guys could run like that because there wasn't that much tape available of you guys running like that. Do you think you surprised them with the way they were the team known for getting up and down, and I think you guys outdid them on that today.
SAM THOMPSON: I think we may have surprised them a little bit. Defensively, we were able to get some stops to get out in the open court off of missed shots and turnovers. We got some easy ones early on, and I don't know if they were expecting that or not.
We did a good job of converting when we had numbers early in the game, and we really set the tone.

Q. Sam, you guys have got out to a 19 point lead there and it quickly dropped to 4 there. What happened? Was it just a lack of focus there, as Coach said? What was going on there? What got you guys back?
SAM THOMPSON: I definitely think it was a lack of focus. We sort of got relaxed. We started feeling ourselves. We started patting ourselves on the back.
Give Iona credit. They came out, and they kept fighting, and they fought all the way back down to 4 points.
It's just a lesson for us that any team in this tournament, we can't feel good. We can't rest on our laurels. We have to play for the 40 minutes.

Q. Aaron, being from Ohio, how does it feel to win tonight with this being relatively close to home?
AARON CRAFT: This is awesome. Wherever we're going to play, we know Buckeye Nation travels well, and they're all over the country. But being able to play an hour or so from Columbus is phenomenal. They did a great job. They came out and kind of packed the gym for us.
Fortunately enough, we get to play another game in it, and hopefully we can give them something to cheer about on Sunday. Aaron and Sam, thank you.
Questions for Coach Matta.

Q. Has the dunk been people think it's a SportsCenter kind of thing, and it's certainly a crowd igniter. The dunk contest has lost a lot of its pizazz. What's the place of it in the game now?
COACH MATTA: I don't know. I mean, it's something kids thoroughly enjoy doing, probably to a fault. I think guys growing up would probably rather be able to dunk than run a clean pick and roll.
I said this to this team a lot early. The problem that we had early on was our guys watch like SportsCenter, and they show 30 seconds of highlights from a game, but our guys never saw the other 47:30 of like great NBA basketball. So we've had to try to scale them down in terms of that.
The dunk shot is obviously, it's a crowd igniter. It does all those things, but I just honestly, I want the two points, and let's run back and play defense.

Q. Sometimes they go awry.
COACH MATTA: I will say this. I think it's a very good play in basketball, to be honest with you, because you can freeze a defense. We don't have a ton of actions to get them, but I do think it's I think it was Dr. Tom Davis that used to shoot the alley oop pass that looked like a shot.
But we tell our guys, hey, if you can dunk it, dunk it. But if you have to come down with it, I'm fine with that. Just make sure we get two points.

Q. Thad, you talk every year about how refreshing it is to get out of the Big Ten. Did you think that you could possibly transition these guys the way you did tonight?
COACH MATTA: I felt like from the standpoint of going into this game and looking at Iona, we thought that they wanted to play fast, and our biggest thing was, if we could strike them early, let's do it.
We had a couple possessions there in that run they made on us where we kind of shot an in between shot. It wasn't the shot that we wanted, and I think that helped ignite them to get them back.
But guys play we practice fast. So I think that probably helped us in terms of coming into a game like this.

Q. Not that you needed a confidence booster after winning eight straight games and the Big Ten Championship, but was this a confidence booster for these guys? Especially a lot of these guys had career nights tonight. To get that in the first round of the NCAA, does that kind of ground them a little bit?
COACH MATTA: I hope so. The biggest thing we had was, when we got back together Monday night, we showed them tape, as I think I told you guys, of 2 seeds going down last year and saying like, hey, this is a reality. It happened last year. We have to get ourselves ready to go.
I think getting in here and getting a fast pace we didn't get up and down in here as much because we had a very difficult practice yesterday in Columbus, but I was excited to see us moving and flowing and that sort of thing.

Q. Coach, what was your thoughts on Aaron's performance tonight?
COACH MATTA: I thought he was tremendous. He just had a great way about him, really on both ends of the floor. It was like there was a couple of him out there at times.
Aaron is Aaron. That's what he does.

Q. What were your thoughts last question. What were your thoughts on your players saying like they're playing like they're under the radar?
COACH MATTA: I don't think they said that. I think he said that on the question. The question was the other teams are up here and they kind of shuffle, but he just asked we were under the radar, he thought, yeah.

Q. Do you feel like your team's got the hot hand right now?
COACH MATTA: You know, I don't know in this tournament if you could say anybody has a hot hand. I think, if you're in a conference race and you got common opponents, you know going in the game that what the other team is we're sitting here right now, and I don't know who we're going to play next.
I like the way our team's playing. I like the fact that we're winning games right now. We just as I told him, we've got to be better tomorrow than we were today and same thing on Sunday. That's kind of who this basketball team is in terms of how we operate.
Keeping those guys' minds in that mode is very important to us.

Q. Coach, to follow up on your previous comments, a lot of teams in the MAAC tried to slow Iona down. Was it your game plan tonight to beat them at their own game, or did it just sort of play out that way?
COACH MATTA: We said going in, if they want to run, let's run. Our biggest concern, though, with that said is we weren't going to trade baskets with them. I think that's what happens a lot of time when we said we're going to run with them. We don't care if we score. We're going to run it back this way. That was not going to happen tonight.
They got us in the first half on two transition baskets, and that was a huge topic of discussion at halftime.
But I've always liked to play kind of up tempo, and I thought, quite honestly, 25 10 assists to turnovers, we may really good decisions in terms of that tonight.

Q. Thad, we talked the last couple of days about Deshaun's shot selection and being more efficient with his game. He had 24 points on 12 shots, two assists, no turnovers. I would imagine that's the kind of game you're looking for from him going forward.
COACH MATTA: Bingo. I thought Deshaun appeared much more relaxed. He was much more relaxed, much more engaged to time outs. He got some open looks. Guys found him. There was a couple of quick passes, that sort of thing, and he spaced himself.
He looked like he was gathering last week he didn't have the leg drive he had tonight, but he shot a lot of shots since Chicago in preparation for this, which is a credit to him.

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