While Ohio State was polishing off its ninth win of the season Wednesday night, North Dakota State was busy completing an upset of Notre Dame on the road. So when Thad Matta sat down with the Buckeyes to watch film of the Bison, it became clear very early that they weren’t the usual mid-major nonconference opponent.
That didn’t seem to matter, though. Ohio State treated North Dakota State as if it were Hamburger U., grinding the Bison into mincemeat en route to a 79-62 victory. Known as one of the best defensive teams in the country, the Buckeyes once again used offense to stifle the adversary.
It’s been nine years since they’ve performed so well from the field in five consecutive games. But Ohio State found a way to top it with yet another 50 percent shooting night. It shot 53 percent from the field and 50 percent from three-point range.
Lenzelle Smith Jr. (eight rebounds, four assists) and LaQuinton Ross led the Buckeyes with 18 points apiece, and Sam Thompson and Marc Loving each scored 12 points. For Loving, it represented a career high. Amir Williams contributed nine rebounds and Shannon Scott has three steals.
But the player who finished with six points grabbed the headlines.
That’s because Aaron Craft’s seven assists took him to a place no other Ohio State player has been before. Craft is now the school’s all-time leader with 581 assists (and counting), passing Jamar Butler. Craft also holds the school record for steals.
The record-breaker came on the first possession of the second half when Craft delivered a bullet to Ross who was waiting anxiously under the basket.
North Dakota State, ranked 43nd in the RPI, hung around for the most of the first half until the Buckeyes ended the final three minutes on a 10-2 run to take a 12-point advantage into the locker room. That lead quickly grew to 19 in the first five minutes of the second half before expanding all the way to 27.
The highlight of the night belonged to Thompson, as it does on most evenings. And it was another alley-oop that brought the faithful in Value City Arena to their feet. Mr. Assist found Thompson streaking to the basket on an in-bounds play leaving North Dakota State little chance of defending the high-flying Thompson.
The Bison were limited to 42.3 percent shooting from the field and made just 5 of 17 attempts from beyond the arc. After going 11 of 14 with 26 points against the Fighting Irish, Marshall Bjorklund, the NCAA’s career leader in field percentage finished 5 of 10 against the Buckeyes good for only a dozen points.
Ohio State, ranked third in the AP Poll and second by the coaches, could have moved to No. 1 had Arizona lost earlier in the day. But the Wildcats rallied back from an 11-point deficit to win by two at Michigan.