A stingy defensive effort keyed Ohio State’s 66-38 victory over Western Carolina on Monday night, and in turn, the Buckeyes kept their unbeaten start to the 2016-17 campaign alive.
Playing without junior forward Keita Bates-Diop—who is day-to-day with an ankle injury he suffered in Ohio State’s previous game, a 72-67 triumph over Providence last Thursday—the Buckeyes (4-0) sported a 14-point lead at halftime and cruised to an easy win at the Schottenstein Center.
Ohio State fell behind 4-0 to start, turning the ball over twice on its initial four possessions. However, strong defense quickly reversed the Buckeyes’ fortunes, as turnovers and contested misses by the Catamounts aided an 11-0 spurt by the hosts. As Ohio State gradually assumed control of the game, freshman Andre Wesson’s 3-pointer—his first points for the program—upped the hosts’ lead to 14-8.
After forcing a shot clock violation, the Buckeyes were ahead 18-10 at the under-8 timeout. A slam by JaQuan Lyle off a feed from Marc Loving to push Ohio State’s advantage to 24-13 around the 5-minute mark. Lyle would score eight straight points to bump the margin to 28-15.
At halftime, the Buckeyes led 32-18. Though Lyle paced all scorers at the break with 12 points, Jae’Sean Tate was the star of first 20 minutes, contributing 11 points and six rebounds, five of which were of the offensive variety.
Both teams struggled from the field in the first half, with Western Carolina sinking just 32 percent of its shots (8-of-25); the Catamounts suffered through scoring droughts of five minutes and 17 seconds, three minutes and 45 seconds, and three minutes and 52 seconds in the opening 20 minutes.
Ohio State wasn’t much better, converting 39 percent (11-of-28) of its field goal attempts. The Buckeyes were able to mount a healthy lead thanks to turnover differential (plus-6) and their ability to draw fouls, as they finished 8-of-10 from the foul line while the Catamounts failed to attempt a single free throw.
Ohio State quickly expanded its lead to begin the second half. Kam Williams drilled a 3, Loving scored five points, and then Williams added two free throws to make the score 42-22. By the under-12 timeout, the margin was 49-23.
But instead of putting the game completely to bed, the Buckeyes scuffled, scoring just four points over the next five minutes of game time. Ohio State got back into rhythm thanks to the efforts of Trevor Thompson, who followed up a rough first half (five minutes, 0-for-2 shooting, three rebounds) by scoring eight straight points to bump the Buckeyes’ advantage to 57-33. Thompson wound up with 10 points, eight rebounds, and three blocks in 16 minutes.
Ahead 63-36 at the under-4 timeout, the fouls began to pile up for both teams as Ohio State found playing time for reserves like Jackson, Wesson, David Bell, Jimmy Jent, and Joey Lane.
In the end, Lyle (17 points) and Tate (14 points) accounted for nearly half of the Buckeyes’ points. Lyle also had four boards and five dimes. Tate added 11 rebounds for his seventh career double-double. Williams knocked down a trio of 3-pointers for 13 points.
Ohio State’s defense held firm, limiting Western Carolina to just 28 percent shooting, including a 6-of-25 mark from 3. The Catamounts also finished with 20 turnovers.
The Buckeyes’ busy week continues with home contests Wednesday vs. Jackson State and against Marshall on Friday.
3 things we learned
1) Get well soon, KBD. The absence of Bates-Diop, Ohio State’s third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder entering Monday’s tilt, was felt on the offensive side of the ball.
Bates-Diop, who was replaced in the starting lineup by Williams, hasn’t shot the ball as well as he’s capable of—something the Illinois native failed to do last year, too—but he is nonetheless a calming influence on an offense that looked scattershot for long stretches on Monday. There’s no reason to panic quite yet—the Buckeyes missed their fair share of bunnies around the rim—but getting Bates-Diop back in the lineup can do nothing but help a team that’s built more to defend than to score.
2) The Buckeyes (kind of) hit their free throws. In 2015-16, Ohio State made just 68.4 percent of hits foul shots, which ranked 228th in the country. That’s obviously not going to cut it. Prior to Monday’s game, the Buckeyes had actually regressed in this area, barely sinking 60 percent of their free throws, good for 309th in the country.
Ohio State had made progress against Providence by hitting 14 of its 20 freebies (70 percent). The Buckeyes took a bit of a step back against Western Carolina, knocking down 15 of 24 (63 percent) free throws.
3) Turnovers remain an issue. The Buckeyes entered committing nearly 14 miscues per game, and with four and half minutes remaining in the game, they had reached that mark on Monday night.
With an occasionally-wild Lyle running the point and JUCO transfer C.J. Jackson (who had a forgettable outing) still acclimating to Division I ball, Thad Matta will have to live with sloppiness. But playing against a team Kenpom.com ranked 319th in the country, Ohio State’s ball handlers should have done better with their respective handles.