Central Michigan gave its best effort to keep up with Ohio State at the beginning of the two sides' game on Wednesday.
Unfortunately for the Chippewas, they ran into a buzzsaw by the name of Bruce Thornton.
Starting 7-of-8 from the field and hitting six in a row to close that stretch, Thornton was easily the top reason Ohio State was able to pull away from Central Michigan when it did.
The Chippewas trailed the Buckeyes by just a point with less than eight minutes to play in the first half. Thornton hit a midrange jumper on Ohio State's next trip down the floor, however.
On the Buckeyes' next possession, Thornton dribbled his way to the left elbow and rose up over a defender to hit another midrange jumper.
Then Thornton worked his way into an open 3-pointer from the right wing and splashed that too to close a personal 7-0 run – his second such run of the first half – in three possessions and spark what was ultimately a 15-0 run for Ohio State to put it up 37-21.
The Buckeyes' lead stayed comfortable from there in an 88-61 win over Central Michigan. OSU boosted its record to 6-1 with the victory over the mid-major and continued building momentum from its two wins to take Emerald Coast Classic last weekend.
Thornton finished with 25 points on 9-for-14 shooting. Felix Okpara collected a career-high 14 points on 6-of-6 shooting with nine rebounds.
Jemal Davis had 15 points for the Chippewas in a losing effort.
The earliest stretches of the game were a bit of a slog. Ohio State led 7-2 thanks to a deep Thornton 3 from the left wing less than three minutes into the game, but Central Michigan slowly worked its way back into things.
Three-pointers from Anthony Pritchard and Jemal Davis pulled the Chippewas ahead for the only time in the contest at 12-11 before Thornton responded with his second triple and a clean drive-and-finish to place the Buckeyes ahead 16-12 at the under-12 media timeout.
Thornton extended his personal run to 7-0 a couple of minutes later, rising up to drain a mid-range jumper from the right elbow.
But turnovers were keeping the Chippewas alive. Ohio State committed seven turnovers in the first 12:30, resulting in 10 of Central Michigan's first 20 points. A runaway layup off a steal and a mid-range jumper for the Chippewas – sandwiched around a thunderous dunk from Okpara – cut Ohio State's lead to 22-18, then a three-point play by CMU guard Cayden Casko made in 22-21 with 7:17 remaining in the first half.
That's when Thornton posted the 7-0 run that bled into a 15-0 sprint for the Buckeyes. He had 17 points in the first 15 minutes. Okpara threw down both a monstrous alley-oop from Roddy Gayle Jr. and a second dunk later to add some flare to the stretch.
Thornton, fittingly, closed Ohio State's first-half scoring with a pair of free throws to give him 19 for the period and put the Buckeyes ahead 41-29 at halftime after Central Michigan's Brian Taylor hit a 3 in the final seconds.
The first few minutes of the second half were reminiscent of the first.
Ohio State opened on an 8-0 run and Thornton had four of those points, two of them coming on a filthy reverse layup through a pair of defenders.
Gayle, the team's second-leading scorer behind Thornton on the season, started to get going as well. He converted a mid-range jumper to open the half and followed up the Buckeyes' 8-0 stretch with five points in a row to open another 8-0 run for Ohio State.
Those two runs added up to create a 16-2 scoring advantage in the first 7:55 of the second half for Ohio State. The Buckeyes led 61-31 with 12:18 to play at the end of the sequence.
The closest Central Michigan got after that was 17 points.
Freshman forward Devin Royal converted an and-one layup that gave him a new career-high with five points and put Ohio State ahead 67-39 with 10:36 to play.
The Chippewas chipped away at the Buckeyes' lead a touch down the stretch, cutting it to 74-57, but a 9-0 Ohio State run put a ribbon on things.
Ohio State opens Big Ten play with a home contest against Minnesota on Sunday. Tip-off is at 6:30 p.m. on Big Ten Network.
- Freshman guard Taison Chatman made his third straight appearance since returning from injury against Alabama, playing seven minutes.
- Fellow freshman Scotty Middleton missed Wednesday's game with a foot injury, per an Ohio State spokesperson, and was seen in a walking boot on Ohio State's bench. The same spokesperson said that his absence against Central Michigan was precautionary and that he should be back for Sunday's game against Minnesota.
- I wanted to highlight here just how versatile Thornton's scoring was in this game, something that might be picked up on with a careful reading of this story. He knocked down threes, cashed in nifty mid-range looks and finished in flashy ways around the rim, all in equal parts, it seemed. All that while still shooting 9-for-14.
- Dale Bonner didn't fill up the offensive stat columns this game but did look like a menace defensively. His on-ball pressure in the half-court was relentless.