Ohio State played their worst 30 minutes of basketball of the season to start Tuesday night's game, but came alive defensively (and subsequently on the offensive end as well) at the most opportune time. The Buckeyes would ultimately prevail over Winthrop, 65-55.
Buckeyes star (and leading scorer) Deshaun Thomas at one stretch had missed eight consecutive field goals, but bounced back from an offensive ineptitude that infected the very core of the team's offense to finish with 21 points. Lenzelle Smith Jr was the second option Ohio State sorely needed on a rough shooting evening finishing with 12 points of his own. Derrick Henry was as advertised for the Eagles, putting up 12 points in the losing effort.
While the go to narrative-du-jour will surely be that the Buckeyes were looking ahead, effort and execution aren't always simply the biproduct of having a big game ahead. Ohio State will get to prove that they're one of the nation's best late Saturday afternoon at home against the team that ended their season in the Final Four last year, the 9th ranked Kansas Jayhawks.
Asked after the game, Deshaun Thomas did admit as much that the team was thinking some about Kansas going into the game, but a poor shooting first half (which leads to, you know, rebounds for the other team) is just that. To Ohio State's credit, while they were playing down to their opposition, having an off night, and evidently (at least somewhat) thinking ahead to Saturday's big showdown with the top ten ranked team that beat them at this time last year (and again in April), they still managed to get their act together when necessary and emerge with a double digit victory.
The Buckeyes started the game innocuously enough, busting out to a 5-0 lead with Thomas making his first two shots. A mini-Winthrop run would eventually draw them within two and the two teams would stay separated by a like margin for much of the remainder of the half. By the under eight time out, Winthrop had a 19-18 lead and it seemed like neither team were capable of buying their own shot. Ohio State shot so abysmally that they lead some to openly wonder if this wouldn't be Winthrop's first win over ranked opposition since 2007 when they beat then #19 Miami.
While the Buckeyes were out-rebounded in the first half (by and large on the heels of their terrible shooting performance), things didn't start much better the second half with Deshaun Thomas finding himself having missed eight straight shots on the floor consecutively. The 13,707 in attendance were also bearing witness to what was probably OSU's worst defensive game of the year at that juncture.
Thomas would soon catch fire, however, scoring 10 points in less than three minutes. The natural scorer would also begin to facilitate others with the increased defensive attention to the suddenly hot shooter. In one particular sequence he found Amir Williams underneath the basket for an easy and-one dunk that helped break the lead open to more than five. Williams, who looked shaky in the first half and even saw Trey McDonald briefly usurp his role in the rotation at the end of the first half, would close strong, finishing with 7 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 blocks. Starter Evan Ravenel wasn't the force he was a week prior, but did finish with a respectable 5 points and 7 boards.
Ohio State soon found themselves on the heels of their first 10-0 run of the evening, but Winthrop would make one final stab to close and get things back to a three possession game. Thad Matta's side would hit enough of their free throws in the waning moments to keep things from getting truly interesting, however, and the Buckeyes' double digit victory, while far from covering the 27.5 point spread, would be enough to get them to 9-1.
Though Kansas is on the horizon (and now the focus for the Buckeyes), few will forget the somber, moving words of first year Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey in the post game interview. Kelsey echoed the sentiments of Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim from a day earlier, calling for a(n apolitical) societal need to change, and speaking of his personal want to take an eight-hour bus ride to go hug his kids. Surely regardless of affiliation or your level of satisfaction with the margin of victory, it's a sensibility you can echo during a time we could all certainly use it.
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