Perhaps the biggest concern about the Buckeyes this year was their lack of a consensus "second option" on offense, outside of Deshaun Thomas. Performances like today should help quell the critics, as the Buckeyes found outstanding contributions from entire team, leading a balanced attack that overwhelmed the undersized UNC Asheville Bulldogs. A commanding rebounding advantage and a relentless push on transition offense setting the tone for the win.
Evan Ravenel played his best game of the season, tying his career high of 12 points (all in the first half) and seven boards, on 6-for-7 shooting, and Flyin' Sam Thompson led the team with his career-high 18, on a slew of transition dunks, with a threeball thrown in for good measure. Deshaun Thomas added to the assault with a double double of 17 points and 10 boards, and Lenzelle Smith added another 16 points to go with his 4 rebounds.
The Bulldogs kept things respectable in the first half (50-35) behind a herculean effort from Keith Hornsby, son of Grammy-award winner Bruce Hornsby (a fact the BTN announcers were only too happy to remind us of). Hornsby added 26 points on 9-of-12 shooting, including 6-of-8 from downtown. His teammates struggled with turnovers (19) and rebounding though, and couldn't provide the supporting cast he needed.
Ohio State wasted no time is establishing their tempo, or a solid lead. Aaron Craft scored on the Buckeye's second trip down the floor, and directed a transition-based assault that led to an early 18-8 lead. The Buckeye used their definitive size advantage to completely keep the Bulldogs off the glass early, limiting them to one possession. The Bulldogs didn't record their second rebound as a team until nearly 10 minutes into the game. Ohio State refused to settle for jumpshots against the Bulldog zone defense, continuously feeding Ravenel down low, or finding ways for Thomas or Thompson to attack the rim. As a result, the Bucks shot 61% in the first half.
The Bulldogs kept the game from getting completely out of hand early solely from the strong shooting performance from Hornsby, who had a game-leading 18 points at halftime, including four three pointers. The Bulldogs actually did a good job picking efficient shots, hitting over 50% in the first half, but careless ballhandling and the inability for any shooter besides Hornsby to heat up kept them from making a serious run.
The wheels began to fall off for the Bulldogs shortly into the second half, as the Buckeyes reeled off a 10-0 run fueled by Sam Thompson and quickly pushed the lead to 64-38, effectively ending any chances of an Asheville comeback.
Shannon Scott was a dominant force on the court, even in limited minutes. He was instrumental up the tempo, and tallied nine assists and six steals in only 21 minutes of play. Playing with Craft helped spur exceptionally unselfish passing, setting up easy baskets at high percentages. As a team, Ohio State had 25 assists, and finished with a 59% field goal percentage, one that likely would have been higher had the Buckeyes not gone so deep in the bench near the end of the game.
UNC Asheville could be a dangerous team if all of their weapons are firing at once, but that wasn't the case today. The Bucks forced guard Trent Meyer into an 0-7 shooting night, and forward Jeremy Atkinson had only 11 on 4-of-12 shooting. The non-Hornsby members of the Bulldogs shot a combined 0-12 from three as well. An undersized team will really struggle to pull of an upset if they give possessions away and miss open shots, which is exactly what Asheville did.
The only possible quibbles from the Buckeyes might have been some merely average free throw shooting (63%, 12-19), and the struggles of LaQuinton Ross. Ross played 23 minutes and added 8 points on 4-10 shooting, but was 0-4 from three, and had six turnovers and four fouls. Ross had been outstanding the previous few games, and when the rest of the team picked up the scoring slack so well, the team didn't really need a big scoring night from him.
Overall though, it's tough to find fault in a nearly 20 point victory, small conference team or not. Four Buckeyes scored in double digits, and a 5th had 8 points. That kind of balance, when combined with ballhawking and tenacious defense, will be hard to stop by anybody, even the Indianas and Michigans of the world.
UNC Asheville will travel to Northeastern for their next time. The Buckeyes will host the Winthrop Eagles in their last tune up before their marquee, non-season defining matchup with Kansas.
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