Behind dual 20+ point scoring output performances from Deshaun Thomas (24 points) and Sam Thompson (20 points), Ohio State shook off an early (and again just prior to the first half) defensive lull to look every bit the two seed that they are to advance in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Iona looked the part of the plucky underdog some had them pegged to be in the early goings before Ohio State asserted themselves appearing at times the best they have all-season en route to a comfortable win.
In addition to the 20+ points from Thomas and Thompson, Evan Ravenel contributed double digits scoring while Aaron Craft added a solid, balanced evening to help pace the Buckeyes. When all-intents-and-purposes Ohio State sixth man Shannon Scott was on the sideline, the Buckeyes often failed to assume the role. With Scott out, Iona rallied back to make things uncomfortable for the Bucks, and keep those that watched Harvard defeat New Mexico wondering about a potential "West Region curse". But with Scott's double digit assists back in the mix, Ohio State often resembled the Final Four team many experts have them pegged to be.
Iona jumped out to an extremely fast 2-0 lead right off the bat showcasing the frantic pace star guard Lamont Jones (aka MoMo) had promised to the press on Thursday. They also answered the make with an immediate press agains the Buckeyes as well, which helped in part lead to an extremely early 4-0 advantage.
Ohio State didn't take the brief deficit laying down. The first of six Aaron Craft steals led directly to an assist (and Thomas make). Sam Thompson would break away from his typical GIF-sanity with a suspended-in-mid-air lay-in and all of the sudden, Ohio State were en route to a 13-0 run.
That 13-0 run would balloon to a 22-2 sequence that would help the Buckeyes expand to a 27-8 lead. As CBS lead play-by-play announcer JIm Nantz would note, Craft had gone 93 consecutive minutes at this juncture without committing a foul.
The sizable lead was threatened ever so slightly almost as quickly as it came to fruition. Though the Buckeyes were shooting 60% from the field (with 16 of their 28 points in transition), Iona was able to cut the Buckeyes lead to 10. Despite seemingly dunk-after-dunk from Evan Ravenel and Thompson, Iona wasn't going away early.
The Buckeyes had five first half blocks to go with nine assists (to just 3 turnovers, no less), but their once felt-extremely-dominant early lead was rapidly down to just 35-24. Another Ravenel dunk helped continue to try and dictate Ohio State's intents, but Iona answered with several well executed plays of their own to get things all the way down to 37-29. Sean Arnand was basically carrying the load for the Gaels at this juncture with 6 points and 3 boards to go with 3 assists.
After a back and forth end of the half, a late foul on Sam Thompson and conversions at the charity stripe allowed the Buckeyes to go to intermission up double digits, 43-33. The Buckeyes were shooting 50% from the field while Iona was hovering around 36%. Thomas was leading the way with 13 quick points while Sam Thompson had 10. More impressively, Thompson had seemingly answered his critics from the Big Ten Tournament by pulling down 5 early rebounds.
The second half kicked off with Sam Thompson scoring a skying floater in transition. With less than five minutes transpiring in the second half, it looked as though Thad Matta had instilled the fear of god into the team prior to the second half. Before Ohio State knew it, they led 61-42. The game would never really be close again.
MoMo Jones entered the contest as the nation's third leading scorer and had spoken pridefully that Craft and Shannon Scott alike wouldn't be problematic for he and his teammates. He finished the game 3-for-14 with just 9 points. Craft meanwhile would punctuate the lackluster looks for Jones with what felt like steal-after-steal at times. Scott's presence was undeniable too as his 7 points, 10 assists, and 7 rebounds were critical to the run of play for the Bucks.
After the game, Iona coach Tim Cluess would tell the media, "we ran into a buzz saw." Sam Thompson would later add "With how I can jump, there's no reason for me ever to have a weekend where I rebound like I did in Chicago." He answered the bell with ten boards.
The Buckeyes next move on to face the winner of Friday night's 7 v. 10 showdown between Notre Dame/Iowa State on Sunday. With two seed Georgetown falling to mark the third two to bite the bullet in the last two years, Ohio State fans can thank their lucky stars that the Buckeyes came to play for 40 (well, at least 38). Under Thad Matta, Ohio State's only failed to win their opening tournament game one time.
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