The Ohio State basketball team may still be in the process of finding its identity, but the Buckeyes turned to their most proven entity to lead them to a 69-58 win over Rhode Island in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament in Mohegan Sun Arena on Saturday night.
Junior forward Deshaun Thomas scored 17 of his 25 points in the second half to lead the Buckeyes (2-0) past a pesky Rams team that had a counterpunch for every Ohio State attack for most of the basketball game.
Lenzelle Smith Jr. scored 15 points and the new offensive-minded Aaron Craft added 13 to help Thomas hold off Rhode Island. The Buckeyes will face the winner of tonight’s Seton Hall-Washington matchup on Sunday.
The Buckeyes looked prepared to break the game wide open in the second half after they ended the closer-than-expect first half on a 7-0 run to take a 30-26 lead into the locker room.
Ohio State’s run to close out the game’s first 20 minutes did nothing to deter the Rams, who kept themselves within striking distance until late in the game. URI was down 50-44 with less than seven minutes remaining in the game, but that was the point where Ohio State’s most lethal scorer had seen enough.
Thomas scored seven of his points during Ohio State’s game-clinching 12-4 run, that ended with the Buckeyes holding a 62-48 lead with less than four minutes remaining in the game.
Rhode Island scrapped to get back within single digits multiple times, but the Buckeyes never came close to relinquishing the 14-point lead, their largest margin of the contest.
It was clear Rhode Island wasn’t going to go down easy when it caused Ohio State’s offense to sputter for most of the first half, effectively changing in and out of man-to-man and zone defenses to prevent the Buckeyes from getting comfortable.
The Rams built their lead to as much as seven – holding a 22-15 advantage more than 11 minutes into the game – backed by a 9-2 run that happened in just more than two minutes of game action.
Craft, however, helped the Buckeyes complete their first of two first half 7-0 runs when he knocked down a three to knot the game up at 22. The junior point guard, known more for his defensive prowess, had 10 of his 13 points in the first half.
Xavier Munford led the Rams with 16 points and was one of four Rhode Island players to score in double-figures.
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