Missing one of its key players, the Ohio State men’s basketball team turned to two older ones against an upset-minded Morehead State squad.
Senior guard Jon Diebler had 20 points, senior forward David Lighty added 11 to go with seven assists and five rebounds and the Buckeyes earned a 64-45 victory Tuesday night in Value City Arena.
Afterward, Lighty blamed himself and the team's upperclassmen for not having the team prepared from the get-go.
“We should come out ready to play at all times,” he said. “That’s on us, the captains. Our teammates came out a little flat so we’ve got prepare better mentally.”
It did not help that they were without one of their key players, however. Back spasms forced junior guard William Buford to watch from the bench in his warm-up clothes. He is expected to be back in action Friday when the Buckeyes host Miami (Ohio), but on this night he was replaced by freshman Aaron Craft in the starting lineup.
According to OSU head coach Thad Matta, Buford could have played if it was the last game of the season. He did not practice Monday after the spasms began to affect him following Saturday night's win against UNC Wilmington.
“He felt better today and that’s why we were hoping he’d go but the muscles have relaxed,” the coach said. “Had it been the last game of the season he would’ve played but we were trying to think long-term.”
The Buckeyes (4-0) were not able to put the Eagles (2-3) away until senior forward Kenneth Faried picked up his fourth foul and was sent to the bench. At the time, OSU held a 37-32 lead after the teams had scored on six consecutive possessions. OSU freshman Jared Sullinger nearly came up with a steal in the right corner when Faried drew contact at the 15:17 mark.
He would not return until 9:58 remained in the contest, and by then OSU had opened up an 11-point lead at 46-35. From there, the Eagles could get no closer than eight points as the Buckeyes held on for the victory.
“He’s the best player in our league and obviously our best player,” Morehead head coach Donnie Tyndall said. “He gives us a presence at both ends of the floor and we had to sit him for about six minutes. That changes the complexion of how we defend. Everything we do offensively is predicated on working inside-out off of him. That was an unfortunate fourth foul but that’s life on the road, as they say.”
The game proved to be OSU’s closest contest of the young season. The Buckeyes had won their previous three games by an average of 33.0 points.For that, OSU had Morehead’s zone defense to thank.
“We were a little stagnant in the beginning in the zone that they had,” Lighty said. “They were active and long in the zone and we stood around and had windshield wipers with the ball – just passing it back and forth up top.”
Morehead wasted no time showing it meant business, scoring the first basket of the game and not trailing until OSU senior guard Jon Diebler hit his first three-pointer of the game at the 10:44 mark to make it 11-10 in favor of the home team.
It was a rough start for two of OSU’s key freshmen: point guard Aaron Craft and center Jared Sullinger. Craft committed a turnover on the game’s first possession, and Sullinger missed shots on OSU’s next two possessions and turned it over on the fourth.
For the game, Craft finished with seven points, six assists and five turnovers while playing the entire 40 minutes.
“His defense was spectacular tonight,” Matta said. “He was all over the place, disruptive … he had some turnovers that I know he can get corrected but he broke a press for 40 minutes versus two guys all game long.”
Morehead’s lead stretched as high as five points at the 13:39 mark when a Sam Goodman dunk made it 9-4 in favor of the Eagles, but the Buckeyes would fight their way ahead from there. OSU put together a 9-1 run during the next four minutes to take a 13-10 lead capped by a pair of free throws by senior forward David Lighty at the 9:53 mark, but it was short-lived.
The Eagles would tie it at 15 and again at 17 before OSU closed the half on a 13-7 run. The Buckeye lead reached a high-water mark of seven when Diebler converted a pair of free throws at the 4:01 mark to make it 24-17 and capped a 7-0 run during which the Eagles missed both of their shot attempts and committed four turnovers.
Faried waasted no problem showing that he would be a matchup problem for the Buckeyes. Projected as a first-round NBA draft pick next season, the 6-8, 225-pound senior forward landed OSU freshman Jared Sullinger and senior Dallas Lauderdale in foul trouble.
Sullinger picked up two in the first 8:47 and retreated to the bench. Lauderdale, meanwhile, picked up his second less than four minutes later at the 8:05 mark. With both of his big men in foul trouble, OSU head coach Thad Matta opted to keep the senior in the game until he picked up his third foul with 3:36 remaining.
Matta then re-inserted Sullinger to the lineup, but he then came out 19 seconds later and was replaced by freshman Deshaun Thomas while Lighty earned the job of handling Faried.
Morehead’s big man finished the half with nine points on 2 of 2 shooting and a 5-for-9 performance from the line, seven rebounds, three steals and two blocks. Lauderdale and Sullinger combined for two points, four rebounds and one block.
After Morehead’s Terrance Hill committed his team’s 13th turnover of the half, the Buckeyes took over with a 1.8-second differential between the game and shot clock. Holding the ball, OSU eventually worked the ball to Diebler on the right wing. His off-balance trey with about six seconds remaining set the score at 30-24. Nearly half of OSU’s first-half points (14) came as the result of Morehead turnovers.
Faried finished with a team-high 15 points and game-high 12 rebounds. OSU reserve forward Deshaun Thomas had 16 points on 7 of 10 shooting but committed three turnovers.
Check back later for quotes.