For a team with just four players boasting college basketball experience, Thad Matta's sqaud showed an exciting glimpse of their potential in an 88-59 win over Division II Ashland University.
Veteran Othello Hunter and freshman Kosta Koufos led the Buckeyes with matching 15 point, 12 rebound double-doubles while David Lighty chipped in with 13 points on 6/9 shooting from the field. The three were joined in the starting lineup by Jamar Butler who tallied 7 points and 7 assists and freshman Jon Diebler who added 7 points.
Looking to see what he's got, Matta substitued freely as 11 players saw double digit minutes. Besides Koufos and Diebler, fellow true freshmen Dallas Lauderdale, Evan Turner and and Eric Wallace made their Buckeye debuts and each showed skills that should enable Matta to go 10 deep throughout the season, 11 if you count the latest Project Whiteboy for Ohio State, Kyle Madsen. Corey and I decided Madsen's destined to be one of those usable spare part big bodies similar to his predecessors Bill Robinson, Velimir Radinovic and Matt Terwilliger, among others.
Back to the freshmen, Koufos impressed with his post moves, footwork and college ready physique. It's hard to fathom that he's a 7 footer because he's such a fluid offensive player. He's going to be fun to watch for a year and gives Matta a lot of frontline options because he can play the 3, 4 or 5 spots. He obviously face stiffer challenges than Ashland but Koufos showed he can be a force with or without the basketball.
Diebler didn't have the 3-ball working tonight but he did use his size to penetrate the lane giving hope he's capable of more than just being a spot up deep threat. Defensively, his length at the 2 spot could be a factor although he could stand to get stronger.
Fellow frosh Eric Wallace showed off his athleticism all night with 4 rebounds, 3 steals and 7 points including a high wire dunk in the first half. He also showed good body control on a baseline drive and the dude looks like he sleeps at Gold's Gym. My guess is his jumper is suspect but his slashing ability will be beneficial and he also projects as a guy who could cause havoc once this year's 3/4 court press is unveiled.
Rounding out the freshman, swingman Evan Turner looked more like a glue-guy than a go-to guy, which is fine. He appears pretty versatile (4 asst, 3 pt, 2 reb) although he finished with 4 turnovers. He's another guy that gives OSU length and extends the depth. Lastly, Dallas Lauderdale came in as the least heralded of all the newbies but he looks ready to contribute. He posted 8 points in 16 minutes showing more agility than I expected. I can see him logging contributor-minutes off the bench against more physical teams and/or when foul trouble saddles Hunter. Oh, and is it me or does he look a lot like Shun Jenkins?
The final newcomer, juco transfer P.J. Hill, played 16 frantic minutes at the PG spot finishing with 4 points and 3 turnovers. He looked a little erratic at times on the offensive end but I got the impression his biggest asset for OSU could be his ability to make the opponent's PG work. I won't accuse him of being a lockdown defender just yet but he's not afraid to press the ball handler which could be helpful against conference players such as Drew Neitzel.
While the freshmen gave us plenty to be excited about, the vets look ready to go. Hunter could be primed to have a breakout season in just his 5th year of playing organized hoops and Lighty displayed a confident stroke that just began to blossom late last season. If both Lighty and Hunter continue to grow and support the steady Butler, this team will be capable of another tourney run.
Overall, it was solid performance by the young squad as they raced out to 47-26 halftime edge on the strength of a 26-4 scoring advantage in the paint and a defense that forced 9 turnovers. The half was highlighed by Koufos scoring the first 4 points and grabbing the first 3 rebounds and was punctuated by Eric Wallace's monster dunk off a steal.
The 2nd half was more of the same as the Buckeyes continued to register easy baskets after long rebounds generated from Ashland's 34 attempts from beyond the arc. For the game, OSU held Ashland to 37% shooting, forced 19 turnovers and finished +13 on the boards. Offensively, the Buckeyes shot a solid 56% from the floor resulting in a 56-17 edge on points in the paint although they hit just 27% (5/18) from deep and only 11/20 free throws.
The Buckeyes have one more exhibition game, next Tuesday against Findlay before the regular season begins November 12th. If you can, make plans to attend. Good seats will be available based on the maybe 6,000 that showed up tonight and this team is worth the look. Thad is indeed rad.