Sophomore forward LaQuinton Ross scored a career high 22 points off the bench to lead No. 4 Ohio State to a sloppy 70-43 win over Northern Kentucky. Ross, who added eight rebounds, a block and a steal, led all scorers and his emergence overshadowed what wasn’t a very good game by the Buckeyes (5-1). For the second straight game Ohio State shot poorly and struggled to put together quality offensive sets. The scrappy Norse (0-5) compounded problems by out-hustling the Buckeyes to loose balls and rebounds and by double teaming and frustrating Deshaun Thomas.
Thomas managed to shake off his frustration and finish with 14 points, eight rebounds and two steals, but he was largely ineffective in the first half, hitting only one of his five shots. His 4-of-9 performance after the break was a little better, but Thomas still forced some shots in traffic. Aaron Craft’s offensive struggles continued, with a 1/6 performance in the opening 20 minutes, and just 2/9 for four points in the game. Craft did manage to contribute four steals, four assists and five rebounds, while drawing charges and five-second calls, but he looked tentative shooting the ball and it’s clear that teams will simply sag off of him until he starts making shots again.
Ohio State shot just 37.7% for the game, but was worse than that in the first half (10/33, 30.3%). But the Buckeyes swarmed on defense and made life miserable for the undersized Norse, who made only 8/32 (25%) of their field goals in the first half and 16/59 (27.1%) for the game, committing 19 turnovers. Ohio State finished with 11 steals, but often followed with a horrible shot or one of their own 11 turnovers. Sam Thompson scored 10 points, three of which came on just his second three-pointer of the season. Lenzelle Smith Jr. added six points and six rips, with Shannon Scott adding five points and six dimes off the bench.
Northern Kentucky hung around most of the first half behind the play of Eshaunte Jones and Jalen Billups, who scored nine points apiece in the first 20 minutes. Ohio State started to pull away behind the shooting of Ross around the midway point of the first period, but could never fully blow the game wide open until the second half. The Buckeyes held Jones and Billups to a combined two points after the break.
This year’s Ohio State team will have to fight through this current stretch of icy shooting. Thomas, Craft and Smith will be counted on to provide offense and when none of the three are scoring, the Buckeyes will struggle. It was nice to see Ross emerge on both ends of the floor, but it’s unclear if this game and specifically the level of competition were partially responsible for that. The center play in this game was completely substandard and would be lethal in a conference game or against the likes of Kansas, which will visit later this month.
Evan Ravenel and Amir Williams combined for six points, nine rebounds and two blocks, which doesn’t sound too bad, but there were far too many loose balls and rebounds lost that should have been corralled. Williams was soft and Ravenel was slow in this game. Play in the first half was unacceptable against a team making the jump to Division I basketball. Northern Kentucky’s starters actually outscored Ohio State’s in the first half, 22-19, when Thomas and Craft were a combined 2/11. If you add Smith, the trio shot 4/18. We know this team will have ups and downs, but it has shown a tendency to lack intensity against perceived inferior opponents.
Still, it was a win and any hangover left from the Duke game should be gone by next weekend’s contest against Long Beach State. Thad Matta and his staff have a week to work on things, develop his big men, and build the shooting confidence of his guards. Thomas doesn’t lack for confidence and will shoot his way out of any perceived slump, as he did in the second half today.
Notes: Ohio State and Northern Kentucky met in the regular season for the first time…The Buckeyes are now 13-0 all-time against Atlantic Sun Conference teams…Craft’s four steals put him at 181 for his career, 10 behind David Lighty for second in school history and 23 behind Jay Burson’s OSU record…In addition to his career high in points, Ross’ eight rebounds were also a career high…Ravenel tied a career high with seven rebounds…Amedeo Della Valle tied a career high with three points…One thing Ohio State did exceptionally well was shoot free throws. The Buckeyes set a season high by hitting 85% at the stripe (17/20)…NKU’s 43 points were a season low.