Hype. Rarely do teams, players and coaches ever live up to it. In No. 4 Ohio State’s season opener, the freshman class showed their addition to four returning starters is the perfect recipe to end a 51-year national championship drought in Columbus and, in the process, live up to their enormous hype.
Ohio State used a mixture of in your face defense and athleticism on offense to defeat North Carolina A&T, 102-61, in front of 13,302 fans at Value City Arena.
Six freshmen combined for 60 of Ohio State’s 102 points, including a game-high 24 from Deshaun Thomas. He was 10-of-16 from the field and also pulled down eight rebounds. Jared Sullinger, the most ballyhooed of the six newcomers, had his first career double-double with 19 points and a game-high 14 rebounds.
“We try to help them with their nerves by how we practice,” Thad Matta said about the freshmen. “We take out thinking and go fast and furious for two hours in practice. We make them function while breathing hard and being tired. I thought all six had great demeanor tonight.”
With North Carolina A&T starting center Thomas Coleman out with an injury, Sullinger and Dallas Lauderdale asserted themselves in the paint on offense and defense. Coleman, a senior, already owns the school record for blocked shots with 213.
Like Sullinger, Lauderdale also had his first career double-double (12 points, 13 rebounds) and was two blocked shots shy of a triple-double. His eight blocks tied a career-high. The tandem combined for 27 rebounds, five more than A&T had as a team. Ohio State had an astounding 60 rebounds (30 each on offense and defense). The Buckeye defense also caused two shot-clock violations.
“I feel a lot quicker and more in shape and I’m able to move a lot better,” Lauderdale said. “I’m like a gazelle out there.”
Two other Buckeyes were in double figures. William Buford and David Lighty scored 11 and 10 points, respectively. Lighty added seven rebounds.
The depth was evident tonight as Buford’s 28 minutes were the most for a Buckeye. Last season, and for much of his tenure, Matta has either refused to use his bench or not had much of one. It looks like this season will break from tradition. Nine Buckeyes played at least 10 minutes, including seven who were in for 20 plus minutes.
It was your typical season opener for large portions of the night: sloppy. The teams combined for 20 turnovers in a particularly ugly first half. Neither team was able to get into a rhythm as the Buckeyes led 52-25 at the half. DeShaun Thomas had 15 points in the half in just nine minutes played. Jon Diebler and Aaron Craft each picked up two fouls.
Craft was able to show the crowd his superb point guard skills, though, as he scored eight points and dished out nine assists in 22 minutes. He had zero turnovers and was a perfect four-of-four from the free throw line. It was clear that the team had a better flow when Craft was running the offense.
The zero turnovers are something that Matta is surely happy about. Something else that will make coaches smile: making 23-of-30 free throws.
“They have all the pieces they need to go all the way,” A&T head coach Jerry Eaves said. “Dallas Lauderdale had such a presence blocking shots. Deshaun Thomas can shoot the lights out the ball. That is part of their depth. There are a lot of weapons here.”
Make no mistake; the Buckeyes will certainly need to improve before heading to Gainesville to take on No. 9 Florida Tuesday night. But the first glimpse gave fans glimmers of a masterpiece.