Ohio State broke its habit of starting slow and clumsy this afternoon against Morehead State, jumping out to an early lead and never giving it up. The Eagles pulled close at times, but the Buckeyes went on several long runs to expand its lead back out. While smaller schools are giving other Big Ten teams fits (ahem, Michigan!), Ohio State continues taking care of business at home.
The Buckeyes played without C Anthony Lee in today's game, who was attending a family funeral. Amir Williams benefitted the most from extra minutes down low, and looked on point today, using his size advantage to dominate down low. The Buckeyes benefitted from plenty of turnovers from Morehead State, and Sam Thompson had his best shooting day of the year so far. Jae'Sean Tate and Kam Williams led the freshmen squad for the Buckeyes with strong scoring performances.
One coachable moment from this game will be Ohio State's reaction to trap defense from Morehead State, which gave the Buckeyes some trouble late in the second half.
The game was coach Thad Matta's 500th game as a head coach. Matta is 385-115 overall, good for 77%. That win percentage is insane considering the smaller programs Matta coached before Ohio State.
Three thing we learned
1) These seniors can still play ball.
Buckeye seniors scored the first 16 points this afternoon, showcasing their leadership, basketball IQ and high energy. Amir Williams played strong down low, gathering in several rebounds and giving the Buckeyes plenty of second chance points. Shannon Scott buried an early three and showed his speed driving the lane off a Morehead turnover. The opening salvo was all senior.
If the last few games have been highlight reels for the Buckeyes young guns, the early minutes of today's matchup were all about the old boys. Seeing scoring from the seniors is good on its own, but the Buckeye team continues to look like it can get points for many different places, depending on the night, which is great news.
Sam Thompson and Amir Williams led all Buckeyes in scoring for most of the afternoon until garbage time. Thompson, in fact, was perfect from the field and the free thrown line through the first 30 game minutes.
Williams put down a double-double, and was one a few blocks away from a triple-double. This was easily the best game we've seen from these two all year. Williams went down late in the game with a turned ankle, but it didn't appear serious. Williams was able to walk off the court and went briefly to the locker room before returning to the bench, but didn't return to the game.
2) Who needs man defense?
The Buckeyes continue running their zone trap defense, harassing opponents with frequent press defense an swarming half-court sets. Morehead State players continually looked confused and bothered by the Buckeye's defensive play, finding themselves on the cusp of falling down before passing out of a strong double team. Yes, this defensive scheme gives up a lot of threes (Morehead's Collins had 3 in the first 8 minutes), but no one's driving the line against this system. The fluster this zone causes encourages turnovers - several passes went awry tonight during Morehead's possessions.
Buckeyes had 4 blocks in the first half too, which, to my eyes, was a function of controlling the players driving the lane and having guys in the position. I'm a big fan of this zone. Overall, the Buckeyes forced nearly 20 turnovers and had 8 blocks. This may not be the lock-down defense of year's past, but it's more than serviceable, and really fun to watch.
3) What's up with Marc Loving?
Marc Loving looks to be in a slump. Loving has less than 10 points combined in the Buckeyes two games this week. He was averaging double digit scoring through the previous four games. Loving has contributed defensively, but his highest and best use is as a scoring threat. Loving showed flashes of brilliance last year, but failed to make a big impact. While this year's squad has plenty of scorers, there will undoubtedly be times this season when Loving needs to step up.
We'll look for Loving to break out of this slump when Ohio State faces off with North Carolina A&T next week.