Looking at things after the fact, it may have seemed anticlimactic, but there was certainly some early stretches in the first half of Tuesday's Walsh-Ohio State exhibition college basketball game where the outcome felt in doubt for the highly favored 4th ranked Buckeyes. But in sequences that would have Walsh looking out physical-ed and outclassed, Ohio State ultimately began to assert themselves behind the eager marksmanship of preseason first team AP All-American Deshaun Thomas, who led the team with 25 points, and first year starter LaQuinton Ross, who added in 13, en route to a win. Jeff Copeland led the way for Walsh with 16 points.
Ohio State's other star, Aaron Craft, didn't necessarily have the box score stuffing splits you'd expect from someone on numerous All-American short lists, but the Buckeyes' spiritual leader did what he does best: get under the skin of the Walsh point guard Brad DuPont and help create turnovers and points for his Ohio State teammates. Craft finished the afternoon 5 points, 6 assists, and 2 steals.
Though Craft, returning starter Lenzelle Smith, and Thomas were joined in the starting lineup by Ross and fellow sophomore Amir Williams, the Buckeyes showcased almost as many lineups as head coach Thad Matta boasted Ohio State fans would see in the last tune up before next week's Carrier Classic matchup with Big East perennial tournament side, Marquette. Just about all Ohio State scholarship players (other than former walk on Alex Roger) saw action in this one with points being scored by everyone who got on the court. Matta's gone on record as saying the Bucks will play as many as 10 (as opposed to his historical average of around six or seven) on the regular, and Ohio State may need this sort of depth if they wish to repeat their Final Four run from last season.
The Buckeyes started the evening with the aforementioned starting five and quickly found themselves adhering to a few themes that may define the 2012-2013 basketball season. LaQuinton Ross got off some suspect shots and the Buckeyes took a few sequences to feel comfortable in their own skin. After suffering a knee injury that sidelined him for the second half of last season, Walsh's Kenny Kornowski hit the first basket of the game to give the Cavs a lead that would hold far longer than many likely felt it should've. But for all the initial ugliness, Deshaun Thomas would hit a three a few trips down the court later and answer that with an and one situation which can't be possibly be surprising as we move forward in the basketball season.
First year starter LaQuinton Ross hit a few smooth early baskets and during one particular sequence hit a rather pure looking three after a nice pass from Craft. A couple ugly shots by the Buckeyes would call for the first substitutions of the game (or, just Matta's masterplan to try as many combinations of on the floor talent as he could in the 40 minutes of game time) by inserting Shannon Scott, Evan Ravenel, and Sam Thompson into the action. Scott would have a huge, somewhat surprising block which would also become a recurring happening for a number of Buckeye defenders on the night.
While Walsh expanded their lead to 15-9 (and their zone defense seemed to be giving the Buckeyes problems), Lenzelle Smith entered the game for Aaron Craft causing Scott to slide over to the point for the first time on the evening. A Sam Thompson jumper brought the lead down to two, but a few more ill advised Ross shots helped Walsh open things back up.
The Buckeyes did play the sort of defense that advanced college basketball statistician's metrics overwhelming indicate Ohio State thrives at with a forced shock clock violations, a string of deflections not quite turning into steals, and a pair of blocks from Sam Thompson and Amir Williams. Some weak-ish perimeter defense (which at times was a big problem for the 2011-2012 basketball Bucks) would follow, but on the night as a whole, the defense was fairly strong.
As the Buckeyes drew closer to the half, their physical advantages over Walsh became apparent. At one juncture Ohio State had been to the line 11 times, while Walsh had still not been to the stripe once Center Trey McDonald marked the 10th Buckeye to get into the action, and a long prolonged Ohio State run helped (along with an Aaron Craft buzzer beating three) restore the lead in OSU's favor to 39-30 at the break.
At the intermission, while it sometimes felt like Ohio State didn't look their best in the paint, the Bucks still managed to find themselves 9-for-13 from inside the arc. 17 points off 14 turnovers further spoke to the team's high level of defensive play and Deshaun Thomas sat with 12 points while LaQuinton Ross had added 11 (he'd add but one more bucket on the evening).
Ohio State opened the second half with Craft, Thopson, Smith Jr., Thomas, and Ravenel and behind a three from Smith and a pair of buckets from Ravenel further expanded that lead. After several trips up and down the court, Ohio State found themselves on the good side of a 24-10 run and a 50-37 lead. Ohio State would add to their forced turnovers having scored 24 points off 17 turnovers total after just five minutes in the second half.
Deshaun Thomas would continue to do what he did and showing everyone why he was a 1st team preseason All-American hitting shot after shot. At one point Thomas seemed to be so in the mix offensively that on a contested missed three, he took some time during a brief stoppage to work on his shooting form with no apparent prompting.
While Amir Williams would finish the evening with 5 rebounds to go along with 5 blocks, he at times still looked a bit too reserved for a player of his physique. He also seemed to have a hard time fully bringing the ball in, hurting his potential rebound numbers in the process. He'll have to become and/or our play stronger by conference time if he's going to maintain his hold on a starting role over the senior Ravenel.
With Ohio State's lead all but insurmountable at 77-60 going into the final timeout, there was still enough time for OSU's lone freshman, Amedeo Della Valle, to look very much like one. A couple of lackluster turnovers that a more senior player probably would've had the wherewithal to avoid gave way to to a block that helped facilitate a Sam Thompson and-1 after an outlet by 'Q' Ross. While Della Valle probably won't be a high minute guy for the Buckeyes, he did show flashes, however brief, of an ability to contribute to the team.
In addition to the strong defensive half mentioned earlier, Sam Thompson made a case to be starting over the relatively high scoring but uneven LaQuinton Ross. Thompson played almost a more confident game en route to 11 points of his own and definitely gave the Buckeyes a spark on defense after entering early in the first half. Whether Matta wants to continue bringing him in as the 6th man accordingly to provide just that could be answered in the next few weeks to come.
Finally, one of the more important sequences of the night came from a player who like the guy he replaced didn't exactly light up the stat sheet. Shannon Scott would finish with just 6 points and 1 assist but did move out to the point guard role during a Craft breather and looked comfortable doing so. There were murmurs going into this one that his on the ball defense had improved in the off season and that certainly looked to be the case. If Ohio State has a reliable second option at the 1 after Craft, they should better be able to keep their court general fresh and help ensure that regardless of who's masking the opposing team's ball carrier, he's frustrated for every minute he's on the court (instead of just most of them).
|SMITH JR.,LENZELLE *||6||1||3||2||3||1||2||4||1||2||1||3||19||10|
|* indicates starter|
|** +/- data is estimated due to inconsistent substitution data|