Ohio State welcomed in a heralded freshman class with a 102-56 blowout victory against visiting Walsh in an exhibition game at Value City Arena.
Freshman Jared Sullinger led all players with 22 points and 10 rebounds as five Buckeyes scored at least 12 points in the victory. The nation’s No. 1 center prospect out of Columbus Northland issued a verbal commitment to the program in May of 2007.
More than three years later, Sullinger said it was a dream come true to see his first action as a Buckeye.
“It meant a lot because putting on scarlet and gray always means everything to me,” he said. “I played good because my teammates got me the ball. They got me in the right spot. Everybody was just sharing the basketball.”
After spotting their NAIA Division II foe a 3-0 lead, the Buckeyes got their first points from the player expected to be the main offensive weapon this season: junior guard William Buford. They captured their first lead when he banked one in off the glass on a fast break one possession later, but it was the main freshman everyone wanted to see that put OSU ahead for good.
Sullinger, the lone freshman to appear in the starting lineup, scored while being fouled at the 17:53 mark to make it 6-5 in favor of the home team. It was the first points of a 20-5 run in which six Buckeyes had at least one basket.
“As I told our guys we’ve got a long way to go but they took care of business today,” head coach Thad Matta said.
The score stood at 24-10 with 12:27 left and the need to keep track of each individual play waned as the ability to take in the entire picture took on greater importance. After utilizing a notoriously short bench last season, Matta entered the game possessing supposedly more parts to work with.
That much proved to be true, as the Buckeyes substituted liberally until nearly reaching the midway point of the second half. With a 55-30 lead at the break, eight players had seen at least seven minutes of action. Buford was the only player to play more than 15 minutes, putting up 14 points and four rebounds in 17 minutes.
OSU started big, with Sullinger and senior Dallas Lauderdale in the lineup. At 6-9, the freshman stands an inch taller than the returning starter. Later, they went small with four guards and fifth-year senior David Lighty manning the center position.
They started experience, with four returning starters. They showcased youth, playing five freshman for several minutes during a stretch in the second half with the game well in hand.
Buford opened the game as the point guard, but he was not exclusively charged with handling the ball. Freshman Aaron Craft was one of the first two subs to enter the contest at the 14:37 mark. When he and fellow freshman DeShaun Thomas replaced Lauderdale and Lighty, he handled the point and Buford slid to shooting guard.In addition, Lighty saw some time at the position as well.
Matta said he hopes to have a point guard as the season goes on but added that he is fine with handling the position by committee.
“I do think Aaron is going to continue to develop,” the coach said. “It can be a committee-type deal but we’ve got to continue (to progress). We were laughing the other day after practice there were days this time last year where (Evan Turner) didn’t look good.”
Craft said he does not view the future of the position as being exclusively his.
“It’s definitely an opportunity for me but it’s also an opportunity for everyone else who can handle the ball,” he said. “Coach has confidence in all of us. We all play hard and play as a team. It’s not who’s going to be at the point and who’s going to be at the 2, it’s wherever we have to be at to win.”
The freshman also helped stop some early defensive lapses for the Buckeyes. When he checked into the contest, the Cavaliers had 10 points in the first 5:23.
“I thought what you saw today with is how he’s been through the course of practice,” Matta said. “He did a pretty good job of picking up. He’s got a great feel for offensively where the ball needs to be and you can tell he’s shot a ton of shots. He and Jon (Diebler) are attached at the hip of coming in early and getting shots up.”
Sullinger led all players with 22 points and 10 rebounds as five Buckeyes finished in double figures. Lighty had 19, Buford 16 and Craft and Lauderdale each added 12. OSU shot 59.7 percent (37 of 62) overall.
Craft added a game-high eight assists against zero turnovers.
The game was not televised live, but a replay will be shown Monday at 6 p.m. on the Big Ten Network. OSU begins the regular season Friday with a 7 p.m. tip against North Carolina A&T.