With a 78-68 win in their season opener over Navy, the Ohio State Buckeyes men’s basketball team is heading back to Columbus for their home opener against the North Carolina Central Eagles of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
It was a slow start for the Buckeyes against the Midshipman, who they led by only five at halftime. Navy played a close game, especially in the first half as Ohio State tried to find its rhythm. Navy, a very fundamentally sound team, did not allow the Buckeyes to work their offense freely for much of the game. But the Buckeyes broke it open in the second half, led by junior guard Kam Williams, who scored 16 of his 23 points in the second half.
Matta played 10 different players in the first half, but most notable from the bench was point guard C.J. Jackson, who relieved a struggling JaQuan Lyle for some of the first and most of the second half. Lyle’s 13 minutes played were a career low at Ohio State. While we can expect that Lyle will start against North Carolina Central, it will be interesting to see how he and Jackson balance one another early on in the season.
Friday was also our first look at true freshman center Micah Potter. The 6-foot-9, 240-pound big man from Mentor, Ohio had no points in 21 minutes and recorded just two rebounds on the night. Still, with Trevor Thompson behind him, who stepped in for 18 minutes Friday, Potter will have room to find his rhythm early in nonconference play.
The Eagles, meanwhile, are coming off an 81-69 loss in their season opener to Marshall. Last year, they went 13-19 on the season and finished sixth in the MEAC. Despite losing their top scorer from last season, this is a team with significant experience in the lineup.
The Buckeyes have room for improvement following their season opener. Though Navy presented a formidable foe which makes few mistakes, they did miss 10 free throws on the night, which proved to be equal to the difference in the game (Ohio State was 14-of-21 from the line themselves). From gaining a quicker start on offense to improved passing to fixing the problem with turnovers, it was a good first test for a team trying to break in a new center and improve on the errors of last season.
Numbers to know
The number of true freshman who have started their first game under Thad Matta--a number which now includes freshman Micah Potter. Potter is in good company, as the list includes Mike Conley Jr., Jon Diebler, Kosta Koufos, David Lighty, D’Angelo Russell and Jared Sullinger.
Ohio State had a whopping 17 turnovers against Navy, which Thad Matta credited to “guys trying to catch with one hand, and a little one-handed pass here and there.” While there is much that can be worked on following a season opener as a team works to get the kinks out from the offseason, the Buckeyes’ biggest pain point Friday was their turnovers. This statistic was one which the Buckeyes needed to work on already, having averaged 12.9 turnovers per game last season (ranking them 196th in NCAA Division I in that category).
Points off the bench. With nearly half of the Buckeyes’ total score coming from the bench (mostly from Kam Williams’ 23-point performance), Ohio State seemed to have a balanced attack for much of the night. Three starters scored in double digits, while Trevor Thompson added 11 from the bench.
Cast of characters
With 23 points against Navy, the junior guard led the Buckeyes in scoring Friday night and tied his career high at Ohio State. Even more important, 16 of Williams’ points came in the second half after a mediocre performance by the team as a whole in the first. He was the driver of the Buckeyes’ 23-8 run in the second half which was the difference in the game in favor of Ohio State. Williams stepped up as a leader in the season opener, and it will be interesting to see how he continues to develop in that role early on in the season.
The junior college transfer from Eastern Florida State had a solid performance Friday, recording four points along with nine assists and six rebounds. Coming off the bench, the sophomore point guard played for 27 minutes, displacing JaQuan Lyle who was forced to the bench for much of the second half. Lyle recorded three points and two turnovers in just 13 minutes of play. While Lyle, the only remaining player from last year’s incoming recruiting class, is one of the better players on the team, Jackson could prove to be a highly beneficial complement as the team progresses.
North Carolina Central
The senior guard scored 19 points against Marshall Saturday, leading the team in total points after averaging just 7.8 points per game last season. Graf also led the Eagles in assists with six on the night (he had led the team in assists last season as well). Coincidentally, he was a member of the 15-seed Florida Gulf Coast team which upset Georgetown in the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
Just behind Graf, Cole, also a senior guard, recorded 18 points for the Eagles in their season opener Saturday. Though he had eight rebounds on the night, he also had a team-high five turnovers. Cole was second on the team last year in scoring with 14.4 points per game.
How to watch
Game time: 9 p.m. ET
Radio: 97.1 FM