It's tough to extrapolate much from a win over a team in just their second year in Division I, a team ranked 340th (out of 351) by Ken Pomeroy. Ohio State's 92-55 dispatching of UMass-Lowell on Friday was as lopsided as it was expected, but it did give the Buckeyes a chance to see how the team would respond when the games count.
"I think we did what we wanted to do. It's the first game of the season," senior Sam Thompson said after the game. "There's a lot of room to improve, but I'm happy with where we are."
Five Buckeyes scored in double figures against the River Hawks, led by freshman phenom D'Angelo Russell's 16. The 6'5 Russell also added four rebounds and six assists in his first official collegiate game.
"With the newcomers, I don't think anybody was nervous," Russell said of himself and his fellow freshmen. "We're past that stage. So it's just stepping up and getting the job done."
Thompson and sophomore Marc Loving scored 14 a piece, while newcomers Anthony Lee and Kam Williams added 13 and 12, respectively, to a balanced offensive attack. Senior Shannon Scott racked up a career-high 11 assists in orchestrating the offense.
"I was pretty pleased with how everybody played," head coach Thad Matta said. "We had a couple lulls offensively, and I thought we let our guard down defensively probably a little bit too much. Some of the fouls at the end of the shot clock, we've got to clean that up. But overall, sharing the basketball, one turnover in the second half, that was huge for us."
Tonight's matchup with Marquette will provide a tougher test for the Buckeyes. The Golden Eagles, in their first season sans Buzz Williams following his defection to Virginia Tech, are coming off a 79-63 victory over Tennessee-Martin in their opener. New head coach Steve Wojciechowski, the longtime player and lead assistant at Duke under Mike Krzyzewski, is looking to instill the same scrappy, tough demeanor he employed as a player into a team that lost its top four scorers from a season ago.
"I just want to go to battle with these guys," Wojciechowski said after winning his coaching debut. "My promise to them was I was going to give them everything I have. That's what they're supposed to give me, too."
Ohio State will need to keep their intensity level high against the Golden Eagles to avoid a letdown after beating down an inferior opponent in the opener. Here's what to look for tonight when the Buckeyes take the hardwood.
Numbers to know
The tallest eligible player on Marquette's roster is junior forward Steve Taylor, who stands a mere 6'7. Former Indiana Hoosier center Luke Fischer, who transferred last January and stands 6'11, can't suit up until Dec. 14. This leaves the Golden Eagles playing small ball for the first half dozen games of the season, which includes tilts against Wisconsin and Georgia Tech in addition to the Buckeyes. This serves as an opportunity for Ohio State to attack the basket without fear of a rim protector, and for senior Amir Williams and Lee to impose their will on the glass.
According to KenPom's rankings, Marquette is magnitudes better than UMass-Lowell. Not including the ten Big Ten foes on the schedule currently in the top 50, the Golden Eagles are the third-toughest opponent the Buckeyes will face. Only North Carolina (No. 21) and Louisville (No. 2) are more highly ranked. This isn't the marquee matchup that Ohio State thought it would be when it was originally scheduled, but it is one of the few opportunities the team will have to face any kind of a challenge in the non-conference. After Marquette, the next-highest ranked non-conference contest will come against Wright State, which checks in at 149th.
Matta's rotation is notoriously short, but this is the number of players who saw at least 10 minutes of action in the opener. Of course, there's no telling how the bench will be utilized long-term, but for the first time in a number of seasons, it feels like Ohio State has real depth. All four freshmen saw the floor for at least 13 minutes, and two (Russell and Jae'Sean Tate) played at least 25.
Cast of characters
There's no denying the freakish athletic ability of the Buckeyes' human highlight reel, but Thompson has been far from consistent in his first three years in scarlet and grey. Now a senior, Ohio State will be counting on the Chicago product to show a more complete game, which means being more of a threat with his jump shot and using his leaping ability to become a factor on the glass.
Against UMass-Lowell on Friday, Thompson was 6-9 from the floor, including 2-4 from three-point range, adding four boards, two assists, and a steal.
"Sam has been playing very well," Matta said after the game. "He has a little bit of a different demeanor about him, which I love."
The five-star recruit out of Montverde Academy in Florida has been as good as advertised through his first two games, albeit one an exhibition. Russell is a talented ball-handler who can create his own shot off the dribble, slashing to the basket or pulling up from the midrange, a knockdown shooter from beyond the arc, and a skilled and willing passer. All of that was on display against the River Hawks as he led the team in scoring and steals and was second in both rebounding and assists. This came on the heels of a 17/8/6 line against Division II Walsh.
"I think that you saw he has a different pace about him," Matta said after the Walsh exhibition. "He sees things that other freshmen don't and that's good. That is really unique for a freshman."
The sophomore from Memphis rewarded the confidence that Wojciechowski showed in him by making him a starter, scoring a career-high 20 points and piling up four rebounds, two assists, four steals, and two blocks in the season opener. After playing sparingly as a freshman, Johnson has shown the new coaching staff that he has matured and can make an impact on both ends of the floor.
"I thought J.J. was the player of the game," Wojciechowski said. "He was terrific on both ends of the floor. When we needed big baskets he came up with them. He was all over the place defensively. He really played like a veteran. That's a real tribute to the kid."
A grad student transfer from BYU, Carlino was a big get for Wojciechowski after taking the job with the Golden Eagles. A combo guard who can play point or work off the ball, the Scottsdale, Arizona native averaged double-figure scoring numbers in each of his three seasons with the Cougars, and is expected to be a steady, veteran presence for Marquette's young roster. He had 11 points and a game-high seven assists in the opener.
"If there's one guy in our program who is a proven scorer at the collegiate level, he is it," Wojciechowski said before the season began. "He can score with the ball in his hands, and he can score off the ball."