Ohio State freshman Deshaun Thomas scored a game-high 24 points, Jared Sullinger and Dallas Lauderdale each recorded double-doubles and the Buckeyes opened the season with a 102-61 blowout against visiting North Carolina A&T.
Thomas got his with a 10-for-16 shooting performance. A number of his baskets came from simply being in the right place at the right time, leading one reporter to ask head coach Thad Matta if he was a garbageman.
“It’s funny you say that because I’ve noticed that about him,” the coach said. “He has a way of finding the ball and the ball has a way of finding him. I picked up on that early on in practice. Some way he always ends up in the right position.”
With 19 points and 14 rebounds, Sullinger became the first freshman to record one in his debut since Herb Williams had 34 points and 10 boards in 1977. Not to be outdone, Lauderdale’s double-double was his first as he finished with 13 rebounds and 12 points. He nearly reached triple-double status, adding eight blocks. In all, five Buckeyes scored in double figures.
Sullinger’s line was made more impressive by the fact that he was limited to three points and two rebounds in the first half after foul trouble kept him on the bench for 12 minutes.
“We got it in there a little bit better to him in the second half,” Matta said. “He got to the points where we wanted him in. it was a real quick pass into him and that was real good for us.”
Looking at his performance, Sullinger said he considers it a successful game when he is active on the glass.
“What I focus my game on is how many rebounds I get,” he said. “If I don’t get many rebounds I’m not playing hard. That’s something that’s been established by my brothers and my father. Rebounding is the most selfish stat on the stat line.”
The No. 4 Buckeyes (1-0) never trailed, getting a free throw from junior guard William Buford on their first possession. Senior Dallas Lauderdale was credited with the first field goal of the season, but it was thanks to A&T center Cristian Henry who tipped in a missed field goal attempt to make it 3-0.
A&T (0-1) got on the board on the ensuing possession with a jumper, but the Buckeyes put together a 10-0 run with a different player scoring each field goal to open up a 15-3 lead. At the 8:20 mark with the score 29-15, Matta inserted freshman point guard Aaron Craft, who had picked up two quick early fouls.
The Aggies would get an immediate basket to cut the deficit to 12, but then Craft began to assert himself. After the teams combined for three missed field goals and a turnover on their next four possessions, Craft got his first OSU field goal in dramatic fashion with a spinning left-handed lay-in that fell through the net as his body landed on the hardwood.
The basket sparked a 13-2 Buckeye run capped by a pair of Craft free throws at the 3:26 mark that made it 41-19. During the spurt, the freshman had six points and two assists.
He remained in the lineup until the half ended and the Buckeyes held a 52-25 lead. The Buckeyes connected on 19 of their 34 first-half shots, good for 55.9 percent. Freshman reserve Deshaun Thomas led the way with 15 points on 6 of 9 shooting as five Buckeyes had at least two field goals in the first 20 minutes.
“Craft is the glue guy,” Sullinger said. “He keeps everybody together. Whatever it takes, he will do. He’s a great defender and he knows his role. A lot of people take him lightly. They see a little kid out there and think they can pressure him … nobody realizes how good Craft can be.”
Any chance the visitors had to make it competitive vanished in the opening minutes of the second half as the Buckeyes opened up with a 12-0 run. Junior guard Nic Simpson connected on a trey at the 15:43 mark to give the Aggies their first second-half bucket, making it 64-28.
At one point in the second half, five freshmen were on the court for the Buckeyes. The only holdout was Lenzelle Smith, who is still recovering from offseason wrist surgery and did not play until the 4:30 mark of the second half. He scored his first basket seconds later.
Craft fouled out of the game with 4:30 remaining. He finished with nine assists, eight points, one steal and no turnovers.
Thomas scored with 2:18 remaining to push the Buckeyes past the century mark.
A&T was led by Marc Hill and Simpson, who each had 14 points.
“They had more offensive rebounds than (my team) did total (30-22),” Aggies head coach Jerry Eaves said. “It’s really, really funny that we didn’t get beat by a hundred. It really, really could’ve gotten ugly.”