The nonconference slate is over for the Ohio State men’s basketball team, but there is still plenty for the Buckeyes to work on.
Not even a 69-40 demolition of in-state foe Miami on Thursday night at Nationwide Arena could make the second-ranked Buckeyes feel any differently.
Ohio State coasted to the dominating victory against a Miami team its own head coach admitted was overmatched, but the Buckeyes (12-1) aren’t exactly comfortable where they are going into Wednesday’s Big Ten opener with Northwestern.
“I think the concerns probably outweigh what I’m pleased with,” head coach Thad Matta said afterward about the progress of his team. “I think we’ve got so far to go just in terms of continuing to mature, continuing to understand the importance of all the little things that make us a better basketball team.”
William Buford, who had a team-high 18 points on the night, agreed.
“I feel we can do a lot better than we’re doing right now,” the team’s lone senior said. “We can put more points on the board and value every possession on defense. When we’re playing good defense, it leads to great offense for us. We need to pick that up a little bit.”
Of concern on this night was a 17-minute stretch – the last 16 minutes of the first half and first 60 seconds of the second – in which the Buckeyes were outscored by a 19-15 margin.
“I think we settled in on offense,” point guard Aaron Craft said of the struggles. “Every time we ran an offensive set and we executed, we got a pretty good look, whether it was in the paint or not. I think we started settling for threes and everyone went down and was like, ‘It’s my turn to take a three.’ That’s not what our offense is about.”
The Buckeyes’ large margin of victory, then, was a testament to the team’s dominance in the early moments of each half. Ohio State opened the game with an 11-0 run in the first 3:41 and then, after Miami closed the OSU lead to seven on the first possession of the second half, went on a 15-2 jaunt that put the game out of reach.
Craft’s hustle, as it usually does, helped blow things open. Though the sophomore finished with only four points and two steals to go with eight assists, he constantly harassed the Miami defense and also provided the energy play of the game early in the second half.
Chasing a missed shot by Miami, Craft corralled the ball and saved it to Jared Sullinger while falling out of bounds. Craft then jumped over the dance team on the baseline, looped around the stanchion and rejoined play in time to watch Deshaun Thomas score in transition on the other end to give OSU a 15-point lead at 36-21. The play brought the 17,463 in the house to their feet.
“If everybody had the same intensity that Aaron Craft has on defense, we’d be a tremendous basketball team,” Buford said.
Ohio State eventually increased its lead to 28 with 9:43 mark, and by then it was essentially over, but the final minutes were interesting.
True freshman LaQuinton Ross checked in for the first time in his OSU career with four minutes left and drained a three from the left wing on his first shot, while the standard-issue late game dunk came with a minute to play when J.D. Weatherspoon skied for a thunderous alley-oop from Shannon Scott.
Thomas finished with 15 points for Ohio State while Sullinger – still feeling the effects of missing recent time due to a pair of injuries – had 11 points and a team-high six rebounds. Ohio State played all 12 scholarship players.
The team stats also showed a dominating effort. Miami shot only 32.6 percent (15-46) from the floor and committed 18 turnovers that led to 25 OSU points. The Buckeyes lost only five turnovers and didn’t allow any points off of those.
“We played against what I think is the best team in the country, and I think they’re the smartest team in the country,” longtime Miami head coach Charlie Coles said after his team fell to 3-7. “How do you tell your team Merry Christmas after this game?”
Forward Julian Mavunga led Miami with 20 points and 10 rebounds while blocking three shots.
Buford had a historic night. He notched four assists to become just the fourth player in OSU history – joining the night’s TV analyst, Jim Jackson, along with Evan Turner and David Lighty – to score 1,000 points, grab 500 rebounds and dish 300 assists in his career.
In addition, Buford moved into eighth all-time on the OSU scoring chart with 1,629, passing Perry Carter and Dave Sorenson. He now trails only Jay Burson, Jim Jackson, Michael Redd, Kelvin Ransey, Jerry Lucas, Herb Williams and Dennis Hopson.
“It feels great to even be in the same category with those people,” Buford said after receiving a fist bump from Craft when it was pointed out he had moved up to eighth.