Behind a career high 22 points from Ohio State sophomore LaQuinton Ross (who also added 8 rebounds on the afternoon) , the Buckeyes shrugged off a post-Duke loss hangover to defeat Northern Kentucky, 70-43. Buckeyes star Deshaun Thomas had a rather pedestrian start, recording just four points in the first half, but exploded for 10 in the second to finish the day with an easy 14. Thomas contributed 8 rebounds as well. Ohio State's Aaron Craft, on the other hand, continued to struggle shooting the basketball, finishing the afternoon with only 4 points on 2-for-9 shooting (though he did add 4 rebounds and 4 assists in the win).
Northern Kentucky certainly proved themselves adequately plucky, fighting the Buckeyes early, before ultimately falling at the hands of the superiorly talented side. Undersized Norse center Jalen Billups led the way for NKU with 11 points and 9 rebounds. Their leading scorer Eshaunte Jones added 9 in the losing effort.
The Buckeyes started Saturday afternoon's return to home almost as sloppily as they finished Wednesday night against Duke. An Evan Ravenel miss gave way to a Jones three-pointer, though to the Buckeyes' credit, they'd answer with consecutive treys of their own from Lenzelle Smith and Deshaun Thomas. Still, Craft's hesitance when shooting the ball and the team's in general lack of rhythm would shine through in subsequent possessions. Just a few minutes into the game, the Buckeyes were 2-for-10 from the field (with Craft 3 for his last 17 going back to the loss).
With Ross checking in to try to jump start things offensively (remembering that he was one of a few who'd shown flashes in the first half, only to spend almost the entire second half inexplicably on the pine), Craft would revert to the Buckeyes point guard of old, trying to facilitate his teammates more than shoot his own way out of the funk. A Craft steal and assist to Ross for a layup and one opportunity would help Ohio State reclaim the lead, 9-7.
The Buckeyes' passiveness in the interior was an issue again early, with Ohio State settling for too many outside jumpers and then getting outrebounded. The under 8 timeout or so, however, would be a turning point in this regard. It would take the Buckeyes a while to play catch up in that department, but they'd finish the evening out rebounding the Norse by 1 (they'd also finish with a higher offense and defensive rebounding percentage).
Ultimately it would be defense, which some have called the Buckeyes the nation's best defensive unit as a team, that would help them shake the early slow start and generate action on the opposing end. Around the five or six-minute mark to play in the first half, the Buckeyes had forced eight NKU turnovers and scored 11 points in transition off of those. With LaQuinton Ross leading the way with 13 points, despite the Buckeyes still shooting but 30% on the afternoon at the conclusion of the first half, the Buckeyes led, 36-22, after a buzzer beating three by the Norse.
The second half would continue with the Buckeyes bringing a focused defensive approach, but they'd also begin to find their offensive stroke. Deshaun Thomas' shots began falling and Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson also managed to get in on the scoring action. It had seemed as though Thomas was maybe playing a reduced role in the first half to try to force a competent second shooter to come to life (and certainly Ross would fit that bill), but Matta would say after the game it was more of the product of Northern Kentucky focusing on Thomas and keeping him out of his comfort zone the way Duke had. The Buckeyes will need to work with Thomas on playing through circumstances like this and you have to imagine they will.
Almost before anyone knew it, the Buckeyes' lead was up to 22 and it didn't seem as though there'd be any stopping their fifth win of the season. True freshman Amedeo Della Valle would hit a three that would ignite the crowd and Sam Thompson would have a vicious throwdown in the waning moments of a contest Ohio State controlled the entirety of the second half to seal the victory.
The story of this one was again primarily the slow start and while Craft's offensive woes will continue to drive much of the discussion leading up to Ohio State's next game, the emergence of Ross should quell plenty of the trepidation about the one-dimensional nature of this Buckeyes team from time to time.
The Buckeyes next get Long Beach State in Value City Arena next Saturday afternoon at 12:00 pm EST on the Big Ten Network.