When he walked into the postgame press conference at Value City Arena on Saturday, Morgan State men’s basketball head coach Todd Bozeman leaned into the microphone and began his opening statement.
“Ouch,” he deadpanned. “That’s all I’ve got to say.”
It was an appropriate response after No. 11 Ohio State opened up an 8-0 lead on his squad to start the game and never looked back, finishing with an 89-50 triumph to christen the 2013-14 campaign.
Departed leading scorer and rebounder Deshaun Thomas left the team with a huge hole to fill, and the Buckeyes’ play held true to their assertion that it may take more than one person to account for his production.
For the first time since Dec. 29, 2012, the Buckeyes managed to produce five scorers in double digits. Lenzelle Smith Jr. (18), Shannon Scott (16), Sam Thompson (14), LaQuinton Ross (14) and Marc Loving (10) all did their part in an offensive showing that spanned the entire lineup. Other than Jake Lorbach, who played two minutes, every Buckeye to see court time produced a field goal.
After taking just nine 3-point attempts in the exhibition against Walsh on Nov. 3, Ohio State hoisted up 25 attempts from behind the arc, sinking 11. Scott drained his first three shots – all 3-pointers – to set the tone early.
“I think 10 of our first 21 (shots) were 3-pointers,” OSU head coach Thad Matta said. “I think we countered back and slowed down. Obviously Shannon got off to a great start. I think the balance is something this team is going to have to have, just in terms of how we want to play, how we think we should play. The rotation, I thought guys came in and really gave us a boost. That’s something that’s going to be big for this team.”
The offseason work of a pair of juniors certainly helped offset any losses from last year’s squad. When asked whether he was more impressed by Scott’s shooting or Ross’ rebounding, Matta said he couldn’t choose.
“Quite honestly, both,” he said. “For Shannon, as I just said, him seeing the ball go through the basket, you see that hard work pay off. It obviously gives you that boost of confidence, as well as (the thought that), ‘I’ve got to continue to do that.’
“For LaQuinton, kind of the same thing. We knew we were losing a great rebounder in DeShaun and one of the things we’ve questioned about this team is where the rebounding is going to come from. I thought he did a very nice job of rebounding out of his area, and we’re going to need that from him.”
Making his first career start, the junior forward finished with 14 points, 11 rebounds and no personal fouls in 24 minutes. It marked the first double-double of his career and established a personal-best rebound total.
“We’ve been working a lot on rebounding at practice,” Ross said. “Our team is really not that big. We have one 6-10 guy, and the rest of our players are mostly perimeter players. We’ve definitely been working in practice on everybody pitching in with rebounds, so that’s something I did tonight.”
Ross said he was still slightly bothered by a hand injury sustained in a scrimmage against West Virginia, and his shooting numbers (5-14 from the field, including two point-blank misses near the end of the first half) reflected it. However, he said he’s close to playing at 100 percent.
“I’ve just been icing it every day, getting treatment for it and massaging it, stuff like that,” he said. “It’s definitely getting better. I’m just trying to get it back stronger right now.”
Scott posted 16 points, finishing 5-8 from the field and 4-7 from behind the arc. His improved shooting touch, one year after draining just 40.8 percent of his shots (worst among the eight Buckeyes to play all 37 games), came as a result of an increased workload in the gym.
“One day this summer he got 400 shots up, and he told me, ‘I’ve never done that before,’” Matta said. “I said, ‘Well, there’s maybe a reason you haven’t shot the ball particularly well.’ That’s something that, for him, we talked about all offseason. You’ve got to be able to knock down those shots because it’s going to open up so much more.
“He had shot it so well up to this point in 36 practices, and to see it go in with the lights on was huge for us.”