While Urban Meyer and the Ohio State football Buckeyes were pulling off another heart-stopping win up in Madison, Wisconsin, Thad Matta and the basketball Bucks were in action at Mohegan Sun Resort and Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut, taking on the Rhode Island Rams in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic.
The Bucks came into the contest with a 1-0 mark after dispatching Albany, 82-60, last Sunday following the cancelation of their supposed-to-be-opener against Marquette on an aircraft carrier in Charleston, South Carolina.
Rhode Island came into the game at 0-2 on the 2012-2013 season, with losses coming to Norfolk State and Virginia Tech. The Rams, trying to forget a 7-24 mark just a year ago, were not off to the start they had hoped for, but entered the weekend at Mohegan with a chance to make some noise against the fourth-ranked Buckeyes.
Make some noise is certainly what Danny Hurley's squad did, giving Matta's squad all they could handle in the early going, but falling short at the end as Ohio State moved to 2-0 on the season with a 69-58 win in the opening game of the weekend.
URI shot just 9/24 from the field in the opening half, but 4/10 from behind the arc and 4/4 from the free throw line, turning the ball over just twice to go into the break down by four points.
Nikola Malesevic, a 6-7/200 senior forward, led the Rams with 7 points at the break, but picked up a costly 3 fouls in the opening 20 minutes of play, a big plus for OSU.
The Bucks struggled out of the gate shooting the ball, but finished strong to end the half shooting 12/26 (.462), yet were just 2/8 from behind the arc and 4/6 from the charity stripe. They did hold a 17-11 advantage on the glass and turned the ball over only 3 times, but every time they started to build momentum they let the Rams come up with a big play to stay in the contest.
Aaron Craft, who posted a career-high 20 points in the OSU win over the Great Danes, continued his improved offensive play with 10 points and 4 dimes in the opening period, while Deshaun Thomas, who started slow, had 8 points and 9 rebounds in an all-around effort, but the Buckeyes would need both players to finish strong in the second half if they wanted to hear the final buzzer as victors.
Finish strong is certainly what Thomas did, shooting 5/9 from the field and 4/4 from the free throw line en route to a 25-point, 10-rebound performance, playing in all 40 minutes of the game.
The 6-7 junior continually attacked the basket on the inferior Rams, using his athleticism to create his own shot and get chances at the charity stripe, while also using his ability to shoot the basketball to extend the lead, knocking down 3/6 from 3-point land.
Craft didn't have that great of a second half, finishing the game with 13 points on 4/10 shooting from the field and adding 0 assists in the last 20 minutes of play.
Lenzelle Smith Jr. picked up his slack though, finishing the game with 15 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists, knocking down 3 of 4 shots from the distance. Shannon Scott also chipped in, looking good in scoring 6 points and grabbing 3 boards, while Sam Thompson helped out with 5 points and 6 rebounds.
In the end, the Buckeyes were just too much for the Rams, who continued to claw back throughout the game and wouldn't go away. Hurley's team was hindered by foul trouble for Malesevic, who eventually fouled out, as well 9 turnovers in the second half, as they fell to an 11-point defeat.
The leader in scoring for URI was Xavier Munford with 16, followed by Andre Malone and Malesevic, who both had 11.
The Bucks did not look good in victory, but a win is a win and they now move on to the "winner's pool" in tournament play, taking on the victor of the Seton Hall-Washington game tomorrow at 4:30 PM EST on ESPN2.
If the hoopsters want to move to 3-0 on the season, and have a shot at a Big Ten title this year, they'll need a much better effort out of their role players, as Thomas, Craft, and Smith can't carry the team for the entire season.