Ohio State couldn’t shake Valparaiso early - leading just 33-29 at the break - but Thad Matta’s crew shook off the holiday hangover unleashing a 19-2 run to start the 2nd half on the way to an 80-47 victory over the Crusaders tonight in the Schott.
The win improved the Buckeyes to 6-0 on the year paving the way for a clash of unbeatens next Tuesday as Ohio State welcomes Duke to Columbus in this year’s marquee matchup of the ACC/B1G Challenge.
William Buford paced four Buckeyes in double figures with a season high 25 points, 17 in the 2nd half, on 9/16 from the floor including 4/4 from deep.
Aaron Craft had his best offensive showing on the young season with 15 points (5/10) and eight assists to go along with four thefts in 35 minutes.
Jared Sullinger had his customary double-double with 14 points (6/10) and 13 boards plus five dimes and four steals.
DeShaun Thomas rounded out the double digit scorers with 12 on 5/12 but as we’ve come to expect, wasn’t exactly impressive with his shot selection.
A lack of intensity and poor execution by going underneath instead of fighting over the top of screens helped Valpo shoot 8/17 to start the game as they trailed just 21-19 with 7:24 to play in the half.
With Matta on blast during the TV timeout, the Buckeyes responded with a quick 9-0 run behind seven points from Buford including one of his pretty in-rhythm triples from the top of the circle. Lenzelle Smith was also a factor as he found Thomas for a layup and hit Buford backdoor to complete the mini-spurt giving OSU a 30-19 lead.
The momentum was short lived however as Valpo went back to work closing the half on a 10-3 run to make it 33-29 at intermission.
Despite having a lead, the opening half was far from impressive. Beyond the poor defensive rotations and problems fighting over screens leading to 42% shooting from deep for Valpo (5/12), Thomas took some terrible shots and a general lack of looking inside led to Sully taking just four FGA’s in 20 minutes of action.
The few positives included Craft doing his thing with three steals to go along with 10 points. Sullinger chipped in three swipes himself as the Buckeyes caused 11 Crusader miscues leading to an 11-0 lead in points off turnovers.
With Thad getting his team’s attention in the locker room once again, the Buckeyes responded with the 19-2 run that pushed the lead to 52-31 at the 13:37 mark.
Turning up the defense, OSU limited Valpo to 1 of 8 shooting with five turnovers during the run while hitting eight straight shots at the other end.
The Big Three paced the blitz with Sullinger scoring seven, Craft five and Buford four. Sully got it started with a baseline jumper and later added a triple while Buford hit a tough shot in the lane as he was being frisked by a Crusader defender. Craft was in beast mode during the run causing two turnovers, going coast to coast for two and draining a trey from the right corner.
Smith played off the big guns hitting a driving layup in traffic before finding Buford on a perfectly placed assist as the WB curled off a screen to drain an elbow jumper.
It was semantics from there as the Crusaders cut it to 15 at one point before Buford and a handful of reserves stretched the lead to 33 by the time the horn sounded on another Buckeye blowout.
After shooting a sluggish 38% from the floor in the 1st half including just 1/7 from downtown, the Buckeyes hit 68% of the FGA’s in the 2nd half including 5/9 from distance.
Three point shooting still remains a major question mark however as guys not named Buford (4/4) combined to brick 10/12 from beyond the arc. Craft hit just ¼ and Thomas was way off the mark going 0/3.
Looking at the good, OSU turned 18 turnovers into 24 points and won the backboards 36-34.
Jay Harris led the Crusaders with 18 points on 4/9 from distance.
All in all, it was a productive week as the Buckeyes went 3-0 and bring everyone 100% healthy into the tilt with the Blue Devils on Tuesday night. The game will be televised by ESPN at 9:30pm.