Thad Matta may have some questions to answer about slow starts (not unlike their Ohio State football counterparts in many of their own games this year). After a second straight contest in which the team looked soft on both ends of the glass and didn't seem concerned with playing interior defense as Rhode Island guards drove into the paint, the Buckeyes shook off their slow start and downed the plucky Rhode Island Rams, 69-58.
Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft were the tone setters once again with Deshaun Thomas leading the team with 25 points and 13 rebounds. Aaron Craft continued to show an improved offensive game adding 13 to along with 6 assists and 2 rebounds. Lenzelle Smith Jr. added 15 points and 4 rebounds. Mike Powell seemed to be johnny on the spot for the Rams, knocking down a few big threes in the second en route to 10 points and 6 assists, though it was ultimately all for not. Xavier Munford added 16 in the losing effort for Rhode Island.
Rhode Island started the game with forward Ryan Brooks laying the ball in to give the Rams a quick lead. Lenzelle Smith and Deshaun Thomas would react more strongly than the Ohio State offense had in the equally sleepy eyed start against Albany (who defeated Ohio State's likely opponent tomorrow, Washington, earlier this week) with a couple of quick baskets to open things up to 8-4 at the under 16 time out.
URI's fiery head coach, Dan Hurley would get an early warning for being out of the box that would rear its ugly head again later in the game. A careless pass by Sam Thompson would help Rhode Island to close the deficit and force Thad Matta to his bench for the first time on the afternoon.
Rhode Island would reclaim the lead at 11-10 just under the 12:30 mark as Ohio State continued to struggle on the glass. Though they'd bounce back to prevail on the rebound differential, the Rams had the edge in the early going. With the Bucks on the negative end of the battle for rebounds against the Danes last Sunday, it's a concerning trend Thad Matta and company will have to address sooner rather than later.
Another Andre Malone three pointer would expand Rhode Island's lead as high as 7, but Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft would help the team chip away at the deficit. Going into the half, Thomas had 8 points and 7 boards while Craft had 10 points, including a skilled shake move in the paint, something you'd never have seen from him in years prior.
On the heels of a 7-0 run, the Buckeyes would head into the half time up 30-26. Hard to think we'd ever see consecutive games in which Craft would appear to be on track to be the Buckeyes' leading scorer.
The second half would again paint the picture of an inconsistent Buckeyes basketball team. Evan Ravenel picked up a foul not even 16 seconds in. Though Ravenel wasn't exactly a revelation, sophomore Amir Williams wouldn't be much better in his 12 minutes on the floor. Williams would finish with just two rebounds, a week after leaving a lot on the table from an effort perspective.
Following the teams trading possessions for a bit but Ohio State mostly being in control, the Rams would launch a mini-run of their own. With the lead down to just 6, Aaron Craft would hit a three pointer that bounced around the rim for what felt like an eternity before dropping and then forced a turnover on the immediate next possession.
Dan Hurley felt otherwise and took exception to what he thought was a foul leading to his being called for a technical foul. After Deshaun Thomas hit the pair of ensuing free throws, not even Rhode Island's late sharp shooting could keep them in the game. Whether or not the Buckeyes need to work on perimeter defense after the Rams hit some late 3's is probably another question Matta and his staff will have to ask themselves.
For everything Craft did on both sides of the ball, Deshaun Thomas was still the offensive fireplug for the Buckeyes. It seems likely that this formula will ring true for the remainder of the season, but Ohio State would still be well served to find that third offensive option. Whether its Smith Jr., Thompson, or Ross, one of them will need to step up if Ohio State is to get past the Duke and Kansas-es of the world.
The 2-0 Buckeyes will face tonight's winner of Seton Hall and Washington tomorrow at 4:30 PM again from Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.
|* indicates starter|
|** +/- data is estimated due to inconsistent substitution data|