As Ohio lurked in the tunnel of Value City Arena before its matchup against Ohio State, junior guard and Gahanna native Stevie Taylor had a message for senior guard and Westerville native Nick Kellogg, son of former OSU star Clark Kellogg.
“This is homecoming,” he said.
Kellogg and Taylor put on a homecoming show with 21 points apiece but got little in the way of support from teammates as the Bobcats failed to complete a rally from a 17-point deficit and fell to No. 10 Ohio State, 79-69.
The hosts, on the other hand, split the scoring load evenly once again, with four players in double figures and two more with nine and eight points, respectively. Junior center Amir Williams led the way for Ohio State (2-0), amassing his first career double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Senior guard Aaron Craft posted a team-high 18 points despite netting just two field goals, while junior forward Sam Thompson netted 12 points and junior forward LaQuinton Ross chipped in 10 points. Senior guard Lenzelle Smith tacked on nine points and junior guard Shannon Scott added eight points.
The real story of the game came at the free-throw line. Ohio State amassed 51 free-throw attempts to just 44 shots from the field. The 38 made free throws by the Buckeyes tied a program record set on Dec. 21, 1968 against Washington State. The Bobcats (1-1) had five players foul out, including starters Maurice Ndour, Jon Smith and Ricardo Johnson. In all, the teams were whistled for a total of 55 fouls over the course of 40 minutes of play.
“I think it was called the right way,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “I had no qualms with us getting to the line 51 times. You’ve seen that throughout, so our biggest thing is adjusting defensively.”
Ohio State got off to a 9-0 start over the first two minutes, with Ross, Williams, Shannon Scott and Lenzelle Smith each contributing to the cause. The Bobcats, on the other hand, opened the game with four missed shots and three turnovers before finally getting on the board with a basket from Taylor at the 14:31 mark of the first half.
That basket came in the midst of a five-minute scoring drought from the hosts, depressing the first-half scoring total for both teams. Another big run by the Buckeyes followed, though, pushing their advantage to a game-high 17 points at the midway point of the first half. The rest of the first half featured a back-and-forth battle, with Ohio closing the lead to as much as 10 but never gaining any true traction in reducing its deficit.
The second half saw the third defensive lapse in as many games (including the exhibition against Walsh) for Ohio State, allowing the visitors to slowly creep back into striking range. After holding Ohio to 9-26 (34.6 percent) in the first half, the Buckeyes allowed the Bobcats to shoot 15-28 (53.6 percent) over the final 20 minutes.
“I think when we get in trouble is when we get a little lax on defense,” Craft said. “We don’t help each other as much, and when we do that, we give up layups and it’s hard to run or get in transition when you’re taking the ball out of the net or they’re shooting free throws.
“If we foul a lot, that just kind of shows that we’re not really playing our style of defense, we’re not playing hard enough. That’s something we need to learn and correct before Saturday (against Marquette).”
Ndour provided a valuable inside presence for the Bobcats in the second half. After collecting just two points and three rebounds in the opening frame, he finished with 10 points and nine rebounds, including four offensive boards. His putback off a Taylor miss with 4:05 left in the game cut the deficit to just five points, sending the noticeable Ohio contingent to its feet in the stands.
Ohio State barely held off Ohio in rebounding margin, grabbing 35 to the Bobcats’ 34, giving the visitors plenty of chances on the offensive end, especially in the second half.
“They had momentum, they had courage, they thought they were going to win the game,” Smith said. “You celebrate when you make shots, especially when you’re playing a team like Ohio State. For some teams, they may have panicked, but for us, I wouldn’t have expected us to panic at all. We’ve been at every spectrum of a basketball game. We’ve been in tight situations.”
Smith, whose nine points were just half of his season-opening total against Morgan State, iced the game when he sunk a 3-pointer with 2:00 left that ended the Ohio surge and gave the hosts a double-digit advantage.
It was good enough to send fans to the exits and spoil the return of two local players who still consider Columbus to be home.
“This is home, but at the end of the day, I prefer Athens,” Kellogg said.
It took all 40 minutes, but Ohio State made sure of that.