In their third game in six days, the Ohio State basketball team notched its 10th win of the season by outlasting the UNC Asheville Bulldogs, 79-77. In the final non-conference game of the season, the Buckeyes were plagued by foul troubles to three of their top-four scorers, and were hit with two questionable technical fouls late in the game to keep the result in question until the final horn.
After an uncomfortably close first half, fueled by a crazy UNC Asheville shooting performance, the Buckeyes pulled away after the break, on the strength of junior Trevor Thompson getting additional playing time due to the injury to the normal starting center, Micah Potter.
After suffering a sprained ankle on the opening tip of Tuesday night’s game against the Youngstown State Penguins, and sitting for the remainder of the contest, the freshman Potter missed the first start of his freshman campaign; but the Buckeyes didn’t seem to miss a beat down low.
Despite back-to-back turnovers to start the game, OSU raced out to an early lead as JaQuan Lyle dished out four assists in the first four-and-a-half minutes to give the Bucks a 10-5 lead.
However, UNC Asheville ran off a 9-2 run on three three-pointers to go up 11-10; the deep ball would prove to be the Bulldogs most effective weapon of the contest. The game was something of a homecoming for a number of Bulldogs, as four or five members of the team (depending on how you classify it) call Ohio their home state.
The game remained close for the majority of the first half, as OSU led 21-17 at the under-8:00 timeout. Despite shooting 56.3% from the floor at that point, the Buckeyes continued to be haunted by turnovers, giving up seven in the game’s first 12 minutes.
At the half, Ohio State led the game 36-33, but held an odd advantage from the floor. The Buckeyes shot a strong 15-28 (53.6%), including 2-5 from behind the arc, while UNC Asheville was just 12-35 from the field. The only thing keeping the Bulldogs in the game was the fact that seven of their 12 buckets were from downtown.
As has been the Buckeyes’ bread-and-butter all season, OSU had 26 points in the paint in the first half, and four players had at least 7 points. The Buckeyes would end the game with a 48-26 advantage inside the lane.
As the second half tipped, Ohio State went on a 10-0 run to put some distance between them and the Bulldogs. The Buckeyes continued to maintain a slight, but comfortable lead for most of the half, but OSU could never completely shake UNC Asheville.
Around the 6:00-mark, senior Marc Loving was whistled for a technical foul after being called for traveling. The ensuing free-throws and possession allowed the Bulldogs to cut the lead to a single point, 62-61. On the replay, Loving seemed to be talking to Thad Matta on the bench when he was whistled for the technical, which was also his fourth personal.
A few series later, Upper Arlington-native Kevin Vannatta hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 64. The next trip down the court, Bulldog forward Will Weeks was fouled by Thompson, and after the whistle, Weeks continued to play and went to shoot the ball. Thompson followed suit, and swatted the shot attempt, and was also charged with a technical, his fifth personal of the game.
In addition to Thompson’s five, and Loving’s four, Jae’Sean Tate also fouled out, after going for 17 points and six rebounds. JaQuan Lyle also went for 17 points, adding six assists as well.
While the Buckeyes were victims of foul calls in the second half, their 16 were surpassed by UNC Asheville’s 21. Ohio State shot 18-26 from the line (69.2%), including a strong 73.7% in the second half.
However, with 25 seconds left, Loving missed two free-throws that would have extended the 75-72 lead, keeping hope alive for UNC Asheville. Despite the senior’s misses, on the subsequent Bulldog possession, he disrupted a dunk attempt by forward Alec Wnuk to preserve the lead. Loving finished with 11 points.
A three-pointer from Wnuk with :05 left, made things interesting, but a pair of free-throws from Kam Williams iced the victory.
The Buckeyes will kick-off Big Ten play on Sunday, January 1st against Illinois; time and TV network to be announced.
Three things we learned:
1. Trevor Thompson needs be a full-time starter. So far this season, Micah Potter has proven to be a competent role-player, who is able to mix it up down low, and occasionally step back and hit a three.
However, Trevor Thompson, who started 28 of 35 games last season, technical foul aside, is a difference maker for the Buckeyes. At 7’0, 250 lbs., he is the only Buckeye who can legitimately hold his own against the Big Ten’s best big men. On the season, he is averaging just three fouls per game, so Thursday’s disqualification is not likely to become the norm with additional playing time.
Admittedly, after tonight’s game, Thompson is already averaging nearly five more minutes of playing time than Potter is per game. But, at 21.3, for OSU to reach their potential this season, #32 will need to be on the floor more than that.
With Potter out against UNC Asheville, Thompson had 14 points and 10 rebounds in 26 minutes of action, before fouling out on the unusual technical call. The game marked his fifth double-double in the last seven games.
2. This team has no star, and that’s ok. Newsflash, there is no D’Angelo Russell, no Jimmy Jackson, no Greg Oden (who was rocking an impressive scarlet and grey Christmas sweater on the bench) on this year’s Buckeye team.
For better or for worse, this is a team that will win or lose by committee. Coming into the night, OSU’s stable of Jae’Sean Tate, Marc Loving, Kam Williams, Keita Bates-Diop, Trevor Thompson, and JaQuan Lyle were tied for the NCAA lead for the most players (6) to be averaging double-figures.
The upside to this is that if one player isn’t having a strong night, there are others to pick up the slack. The downside is that when opponents are clamping down on defense, or shooting lights out from downtown, there is no one player to put the team on his back.
Thus was the case against UNC Asheville. Four players scored in double-digits, with Williams and Bates-Diop at 9 and 7 respectively, but when the Bulldogs went on a run to make things close there was no Buckeye leader to take control and calm the storm; which is unfortunate, because the weather is about to get much worse as conference play begins.
3. Like a catch in the NFL, I no longer understand what a technical foul is. It used to be clear, throwing a punch, directing an F-bomb at an official, slamming the ball down in anger; all of these offenses would get a player a technical foul.
However, in the course of a few minutes, the Buckeyes were charged with two technical fouls that in realtime, and even more so in replay, looked suspect at best.
Loving was clearly talking directly to his head coach, and Thompson was preventing any potential NBA-style continuation bucket*. While there is no doubt that a team as experienced and talented as this Ohio State squad should have been able to handle their Big South opponent, a couple of technical free-throws and extra possessions is difficult to overcome against any Division I team.
*There is little question that Thompson knew that the whistle had blown and that the play was over, but if Weeks is allowed to continue to shoot, it only seems appropriate that Thompson should be allowed to continue to play defense.