As expected, there was some good and bad as Ohio State hosted Division II Findlay in its exhibition opener Sunday.
Senior center Terence Dials scored 15 of his game-high 22 points in the first half as the Buckeyes cruised to a 83-53 win before 7,282 at Value City Arena.
“I think this was a great test for us,” said OSU coach Thad Matta, beginning his second season with the Buckeyes. “I think you have to give Findlay some credit. They are well coached and run some great actions. They were able to force our hand.”
Matta was concerned as his team led just 40-32 at halftime. But the Buckeyes turned up the intensity and outscored Findlay 43-21 in the second half. OSU held Findlay to 8 of 26 shooting (30.8 percent) and forced 13 turnovers in the final 20 minutes.
“I was a little bit shocked with the lack of intensity that we came out with,” Matta said. “We didn’t compete at the level that we need to compete at. We didn’t get into a real good flow in the first half. I think in the second half we were more active off the ball defensively.”
Dials, who also had six rebounds in 23 minutes of action, opened the game at center. He was joined in the starting lineup by senior Je’Kel Foster at point guard, junior Ronald Lewis at the two guard, senior J.J. Sullinger at the three and senior Matt Sylvester at the four.
“I think we went with more of a veteran group,” Matta said. “We went with the guys in practice statistically – and we chart everything in practice – that were at the top of the ladder.”
Lewis, a transfer from Bowling Green, added 20 points, five rebounds and three steals. He had 14 points in the second half and hit 8 of 13 shots from the floor. He rocked the house on one baseline jam over a Findlay defender and also had a breakaway reverse jam late in the game.
“It felt good,” Lewis said. “It was my first game back in a year. It felt good to come out and play with a good team and just run up and down the floor. It brought a brightness to my eyes to play in front of a crowd.”
Sullinger had 10 points and 10 rebounds in 23 minutes of action.
“I think James today may have been the MVP for our team,” Matta said. “He is one the guy I felt gave everything he had. That’s the way he has been practicing. You see the carryover here. The harder he plays, the better things will go for him.”
Freshman Brayden Bell added eight points, hitting a pair of three-point shots. The 6-8 Bell also tallied three assists in 10 minutes of action.
“I thought Brayden was good,” Matta said. “I thought it was good that his first shot went in. That took some of the pressure off him. We just have to continue to get him to understand the importance of all the little things. But that is part of being a freshman and getting him to mature into being the player we want him to be.”
Foster and Sylvester Mayes each contributed seven points. Mayes, a JUCO transfer, also had five rebounds and three steals in 22 minutes.
“I think Sylvester Mayes is going to continue to get more comfortable and the game will become easier for him,” Matta said.
Sylvester chipped in five points, while Ivan Harris and Matt Terwilliger each had two. Jamar Butler had four assists in 22 minutes, but did not score.
Brent Schnipke and Dustin Pfeifer each had 13 points to lead Findlay, which was 30-4 and reached the Division II NCAA Elite Eight a year ago.
“They’re just bigger, stronger and faster,” said Findlay coach Ron Niekamp. “We struggled to do things against this team that we are normally able to do against an average team. It was a whole new level of competition for us.”
OSU outscored Findlay 13-2 to open the game. Sylvester canned a three-pointer after Sullinger had saved a Sylvester airball. Dials then scored twice off lob passes from Foster and added a three-point play as the Buckeyes built their 11-point bulge with 15:22 left in the first half.
Dials then had a turning shot in the land off a Butler feed and another score on a jam off a lob from Sylvester on the fast break as OSU went up 17-4 with 13:56 left in the half.
But Findlay rallied behind a barrage of three-point shots to cut the lead to 21-17 with 9:00 left in the half.
OSU used a 9-2 run, capped by a Foster three-pointer, to go up 38-25 with 3:03 left in the half. Findlay closed the half on a 7-2 run, keyed by a Frank Phillips three-point play, to cut OSU’s halftime lead to 40-32.
“The first half was ugly,” Sullinger said. “We didn’t play hard. We didn’t get a loose ball. We said at halftime they outtoughed us in the first half.”
Findlay got as close as six on Dorian Bass’ three-pointer that made it 41-35 with 18:14 left. OSU went on an 11-2 run as Lewis scored on a driving bank shot and hit a three off a Sullinger feed. Dials’ layup inside gave OSU a 52-38 lead with 15:05 left.
A 12-2 OSU run – keyed by seven points from the cat quick Mayes – helped OSU go up 66-44 with 9:29 left.
As Findlay began to tire, OSU reeled off a 15-2 to get their biggest lead at 81-49 with 1:56 left in the game. Dials and Lewis each had four points in that run. Lewis highlighted it with a breakaway reverse jam.
“We got a lot more runouts in the second half because we were playing better defense,” Dials said. “It starts at the defensive end. You can’t get fast break points unless you get stops. It’s our goal this year to be a running team. In the second half, we saw glimpses of what we can do.”
OSU hosts Division II Ashland for an exhibition next Sunday at 2 p.m. before opening the regular season Nov. 20 against Chicago State.