A season of high expectations for Ohio State got off to an unofficial start with an 86-48 victory against NAIA Division-II foe Walsh.
But more important than the final score in this game was the first look at what kind of unit the Buckeyes should field this season. After being ousted in the first round of the NCAA Tournament a season ago, OSU enters the 2009-10 season figuring to change a few key aspects of its team.
After almost exclusively utilizing a match-up zone defense for the past two seasons, the Buckeyes played nothing but man-to-man defense in guarding the Cavaliers. In addition, the game marked the debut of junior first-team all-Big Ten player Evan Turner as the team’s primary point guard.
Both were overwhelming successes against a clearly overmatched Walsh squad. The visitors were held to 29.1 percent shooting and were only 4-for-14 (28.6 percent) from deep. For his part, Turner finished with 15 points, 14 rebounds and six assists in 24 minutes of action.
“I thought that Evan played a tremendous game all around,” head coach Thad Matta said. “I think one of the biggest differences for him is he’s playing with more patience and seeing things and really looking to get guys involved, which was exciting to see. He realizes the more he gives, the more it’s going to come back to him because they were locking on guys.”
Five Buckeyes finished with double-digit scoring totals. Turner and sophomore guard William Buford led the way with 15 apiece, while junior forward David Lighty had 11 and senior guard Jeremie Simmons and junior guard Jon Diebler each had 10.
Turner was spelled at the point by senior P.J. Hill, who ended last season as the starter. The two also spent time on the court together, with Hill running the point and Turner lining up at power forward.
The game marked the first performance for sophomore Zisis Sarikopoulos, who sat out last season after transferring into the program from the University of Alabama-Birmingham. He relieved starter Kyle Madsen, who got the nod in place of the injured Dallas Lauderdale.
Less than two minutes after entering the game, Sarikopoulos was whistled for two quick fouls on back-to-back possessions. He finished with eight points and three rebounds as well as at least two blocks that were not credited on the stat sheet.
“It felt great,” Sarikopoulos said. “I’ve been so impatient. Last year was probably one of my hardest years, not to be able to play.”
Going forward, Lauderdale could be cleared to play as soon as Monday’s season-opening game against Alcorn State.
“He’s been doing more and more defensively with us,” Matta said. “I’m hoping we can get him back going with us Friday night. Not sure if he can go Monday night. I think he is ready and he thinks he is but we’ll see.”
The game also marked a return to the court for junior forward David Lighty, who suffered a broken foot eight games into last season and missed the rest of the year. Although Matta said his defensive game looked a little rusty, Turner said he was glad to have his friend back in action.
“Having him gives us all confidence that we’re going to win,” Turner said. “I’m so happy he’s back. He played well tonight and he’s going to continue to play well. We’re going to win a lot of games with him on the floor.”
The Buckeyes never trailed in the contest and opened up a 20-point lead, 29-9, near the midway point of the first half. Of those 29 points, 11 were scored by sophomore guard William Buford.
From there, Walsh could get no closer than 14 points. Offensively, the Cavaliers were led by senior forward Ricky Jackson, who had 14 points on 5-of-16 shooting.
It was a 40-24 halftime lead for the home team, and OSU outscored the visitors by 22 points in the second half despite liberal substitution. The two teams opened the 2008-09 season against each other in a 90-63 exhibition win for the Buckeyes.