It wasn't always beautiful, but Ohio State didn't let an overmatched opponent, or the loss of Daniel Giddens, who did not play due to a hamstring injury, keep them from starting a winning streak and getting back to .500. The Buckeyes rode an absolutely dominant defensive performance in the first half to a 74-50 win over Air Force. The victory bumps Ohio State's record to 4-4 on the year.
Ohio State didn't waste any time, jumping to an early 9-2 early lead, making their first four shots. That lead ballooned to 20-11 at the 11:21 mark, and then Ohio State nearly shut the Falcons out for the rest of the half. Air Force scored only five points over the last 13:36, and were fortunate to be even somewhat in the game, as Ohio State's occasionally questionable shot selection and ballhandling kept it from becoming a complete blowout for a little while, before a late run pushed the margin to 21 at halftime, a margin too far for Air Force to cover. The Falcons shot just 22% from the floor, and 13% from downtown.
Ohio State came out in the second half a little sluggish, but Air Force's offensive struggles continued, preventing a serious comeback attempt. Marc Loving went off in the second half, making four buckets in a row, slamming the door on the Falcons, with the walk-ons coming in with three minutes to go in the game.
The Buckeyes still had issues with turnovers, with 12 on the game, but absolutely dominated Air Force in the paint. Marc Loving led the team with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Jae'Sean Tate added 11 points, and JaQuan Lyle added 12 points, five rebounds and two assists.
Three things we learned:
1) Defense will lead to offense for Ohio State. Strong defense has been the calling card for the Buckeyes during the Thad Matta era, but that hasn't always been the case for this Ohio State team, which features many freshman and others who don't have quite enough experience in being consistent. Sure, it's only Air Force, and the Falcons missed a few makable shots, but Air Force's slow-it-down, deliberate offense can be a stiff challenge for a young team, since it requires concentration and defending deep into the shot clock on a regular basis. Ohio State answered that challenge, and then some, jumping in passing lanes, contesting drives to the basket, and forcing the Falcons into difficult, low percentage shots. That lead to a few transition opportunities on offense. The Buckeyes didn't convert on all of them, but the effort they gave today, and down a rim protector in Daniel Giddens no less, is a very encouraging sign. They'll need that for Big Ten play.
2) Not having Giddens around isn't all bad. It's pretty clear already that Daniel Giddens is Ohio State's most naturally talented big man, and the Buckeyes will need big things from him later in the season if they have designs on making a postseason tournament, but having him miss a few of these early games may have some positive impact for the Buckeyes, since it gives Trevor Thompson and David Bell additional burn. Thompson, who had struggled in spots this year, had a solid game, both protecting the rim, and finishing inside. Dave Bell had five points and grabbed three boards himself, and looked like a useful player. Ohio State will need minutes from both of them, especially Thompson, and the more run and chemistry they can build with their teammates in game situations, the better.
3) Yes, it's only Air Force, but even dunking on a bad team matters. Ohio State's early losses to UT-Arlington and Louisiana Tech don't look quite as bad right now, as both are in the top 102 in KenPom, but Ohio State would still like those two games back. After picking up so many Ls early in the season, for such a young team, every win, even over a bad team, is important. Actually clobbering a team like the stats say you should is an accomplishment after the last month, and Ohio State needs every bit of confidence and consistency that they can get. This wasn't a perfect performance, but there was some good positives to take from the game, and that's okay.