Playing their first game without David Lighty, Ohio State struggled early but used an Evan Turner fueled 20-6 run early in the second half to rout Iona 71-53 today in Value City Arena.
The Buckeyes improved to 7-0, extending the program winning streak to 13, thanks in large part to Turner, Jon Diebler and Wil Buford.
Despite his habitual four turnovers, Turner led the Buckeyes with 21 points (6/10 FG) and six rebounds with 12 of those points coming during the decisive 20-6 run that saw OSU turn an early second half 31-28 deficit into a 48-37 lead with just over 10 minutes to play.
Turner got the blitz started with a triple to tie it at 31 before flashing a brilliant spin move from the right elbow on his way to converting a conventional three point play. Moments later, he picked up two blocks spawning fast breaks led by Jeremie Simmons who converted one into a layup and fed Wil Buford to complete an alley oop on another.
Iona cut the lead to 54-47 with seven minutes left but the Buckeyes answered with a 17-2 run sparked by six points each from Buford and Diebler.
Buford saw a season high 32 minutes and responded nicely with 10 points (3/7 FG) and a season high five rebounds. Taking Turner's spot on the wing of the zone, he proved not as active as Turner but held his own as he and the rest of the Buckeye zone held Iona to 36% from the floor (20/55) and stuffed penetration to the tune of allowing just nine free throw opportunities.
Conversely, the Buckeyes continued their recent surge in actually attempting to penetrate the defense helping generate 35 free throw attempts though I should mention Diebler got fouled shooting threes on at least two occasions. Diebler and Turner did the majority of the damage from the stripe with Diebs going 11/12 and Turner 8/13.
Though the first half was mostly tough on the corneas, one positive was the inspired play of B.J. Mullens. Starting in tandem with Lauderdale, the freshman from Canal Winchester sparked a 13-4 run scoring nine points featuring a nasty three point play thanks to a heady spin move to his right to avoid the double team before converting the hoop and harm. He also scored off a putback and flushed a slam-bam-thank-you-ma'am-jam off a perfect lob from Anthony Crater.
Mullens would finish the first half with nine points (4/5 FG), four rebounds and a block in only 11 minutes of action. Somewhat mysteriously, Mullens would see only five more minutes of playing time though Iona did go with a small lineup once their big guys got in foul trouble combined with Matta's obvious desire to get Madsen some minutes (10) with the front line further depleted with the loss of Lighty. Still, I'm a little curious if there was any other reason. The kid needs minutes with conference play just around the corner. Sixteen isn't enough.
As for Crater, he has still yet to take his first collegiate two point shot attempt after missing two threes. He did dish out two nice dimes in 15 minutes but the story at point guard was the slight improvement shown from Simmons.
He's still cold as ice from the floor (2/7 FG, 7 pts) but he showed increased focus on setting up his teammates and playing D leading to four assists, five rebounds and two steals against only one turnover in 22 minutes. Not bad.
With Lighty out, I found it interesting Matta chose to start Mullens instead of Buford mostly because he's been reluctant to put B.J. and Dallas on the floor together out of concern for lack of front line depth. Of course, those two didn't log many minutes together today anyway. Personally, I think the right move is to start Buford and shift Turner down to the block in the zone for a couple reasons.
Most notably, if Mullens and Lauderdale play together and the Buckeyes press, that means Dallas is out on the wing of the 2-2-1 acting as a trap defender and the thought of him picking up reach in fouls 20-40 feet from the hoop gives me heart palpitations. Thoughts?
Before I wrap this up, I thought Turner and Diebler both tried to step up as on-court leaders and I was very pleased to see Diebler's increased activity/movement at the offensive end. Clearly, Matta sees them both as the new leaders and main point producers as evidenced by Diebler's 40 minute effort and Turner's 39.
Still, my favorite takeaway from today's game is Buford seeing 32 minutes. I have zero doubts about what he can become and the increased minutes will only expedite the learning curve, especially with regard to understanding what it takes to be a great defender.
Next up: UNC-Asheville at 7pm Monday night. Sadly, the Bulldogs no longer have the services of 7'7" Kenny George after having his right foot amputated earlier this year.