In one of the smartest moves it ever made, the Big Ten Network decided to hide the Ohio State game against Texas-Pan American (2-7) behind a pay wall on its website, rather than televising the contest. The game served as a fantastic argument for not watching basketball, although Ohio State (8-0) managed to easily win 64-35, giving Thad Matta his 300th victory as a Division I head coach. The Buckeyes played without national POY candidate Jared Sullinger (back spasms) and put together one of their ugliest games of the year, against an overmatched opponent from the Great West Conference. Deshaun Thomas and Evan Ravenel led Ohio State with 11 points each in a low-scoring affair that was caused more by poor shooting and a lack of intensity than by UTPA’s defense or the tempo of the game.
It’s understandable that the Buckeyes seemed to lack any spark against an overmatched opponent wedged between college basketball blue bloods Duke and Kansas on the schedule. William Buford seemed disinterested, scoring a season-low two points on 1-7 shooting. Aside from being cold, Buford didn’t attack the basket, seeming content to dribble around the perimeter and pass off to teammates. Matta substituted liberally, which didn’t help the on-floor chemistry, but probably didn’t hurt it much either. Still, the Buckeyes did what they had to do to win. They outrebounded the Broncs 44-24 (21-5 on the offensive end), won the turnover battle 21-8, and forced UTPA to shoot even worse than Ohio State (13-40, 32.5% and just 6-18 for 33.3% deep). The Buckeyes shot a slightly better 39.7% (25-63) from the floor but a dreadful 3-13 (23.1%) outside the arc. In other words, it was a good game to not have televised.
The Buckeyes started sluggishly, taking some bad shots and missing some open ones. They also turned over the ball five times in the opening half. Still, with UTPA shooting only 25% in the opening half (4-16), and not hitting from the floor for the game’s first nine minutes, the OSU lead climbed to double figures fairly quickly. Ohio State’s struggles, especially from Buford, kept the game from getting out of hand. Thomas was the primary offensive weapon early, scoring seven of Ohio State’s first 11 points. The Buckeyes lurched out to an 11-2 lead with Ruben Cabrera finally hitting a trey 9:17 in for the Broncs. Jordan Sibert’s triple built the lead to 18-8 with 6:56 remaining in the first. Brandon Provost’s triple cut the OSU lead to 22-12 with 4:40 remaining, but moments later Aaron Craft got a kind bounce off the iron on a jumper and extended the Buckeyes’ lead to 24-12.
The Buckeyes closed the half on a 7-2 run behind two Ravenel free throws, a Jordan Sibert trey and Craft’s floating jumper at the buzzer. The run pushed the lead to 31-14 and provided the long-awaited separation. As much as Ohio State struggled with shooting in the game, the Buckeyes managed to hit 46.4% in the opening half, mostly behind the shooting of Thomas (4-8), Ravenel (2-3), Craft (2-4), Sibert (2-4) and Shannon Scott (2-2). Ohio State outrebounded the Broncs 18-8 in the first (7-1 on the offensive end), and UTPA was generous with the basketball, yielding 10 turnovers to OSU’s five. Buford hit only 1-5 before the break, but did chip in three assists and three rebounds. Cabrera led the Broncs with five first-half points.
Ohio State used an 8-2 run out of the break to take complete control on a Lenzelle Smith Jr. triple, a Ravenel free throw and layups by Thomas and Craft. Aaron Urbanus answered with a layup for UTPA but the Buckeyes scored 10 of the game’s next 13 points, highlighted by five straight by freshman Amir Williams. The McDonald’s All-American augmented his five points with three boards, a block and a steal, providing his best minutes off the bench so far this season. Shortly thereafter, Matta emptied the bench for the final stretch. Ohio State’s lead grew to more than 30 behind some acrobatic dunks by J.D. Weatherspoon and Sam Thompson, but Cabrera hit a triple to knock the final margin to 29.
The Buckeyes owned the paint, outscoring the Broncs 28-14 in that area and 16-4 on second-chance points. Still, it was not the kind of game you’d expect out of the No. 2 team in the country, with or without Sullinger. Buford’s apathy was particularly troubling, and it won’t help his quest to become the school’s all-time leading scorer. Craft had a fairly quiet day as well, finishing with six points, three assists and a steal, though he did help hold UTPA’s leading scorer Provost to just three points. Ravenel played well, adding seven rebounds to his 11 points. He hit 5-6 at the stripe, showing improvement from the line. Scott played well in relief of Craft, providing seven points, though he did turn it over three times. Sibert (7), Weatherspoon (6) and Thompson (6) provided some bench scoring. Smith grabbed six rebounds to go with his three points. Jared Maree scored a game-high 13 for the Broncs.
With a week off before the visit to Kansas, all eyes turn to the health of Jared Sullinger’s back. Certainly the Buckeyes should be more focused and intense against the Jayhawks, but the outside shooting must return to the level we saw against Duke for Ohio State to have a shot at the win in the season’s first road game. Ravenel will be counted on heavily if Sully can’t go. Looking ahead, if Sullinger’s injury lingers, the 6-8 LaQuinton Ross will be a nice addition to Matta’s lineup on Dec. 9.