The No. 2-ranked Ohio State men’s basketball team completed a perfect non-conference season and improved to 13-0 with a 100-40 victory over the Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks on Monday.
William Buford led the way for the Buckeyes with a season-high 23 points. The junior guard got off to a fast start, connecting on his first four shots and scoring the team’s first seven points.
“I had my legs under me today and was just focused in on if I had good looks, just take them and knock them down,” Buford said.
Coach Thad Matta said he was content to ride the hot hand, as Buford matched his previous season high of 16 points in the first 20 minutes of action. He was also the last starter to get a rest, first leaving the court with 10:59 remaining in the first half.
“Will is one of those guys who gets stronger as the season goes on,” Matta said. “That was good to see him play well and go 9-for-11.”
Behind 12-, 13- and 10-point scoring runs and solid team defense, the Buckeyes built a 49-17 halftime lead. Those trends continued as OSU opened the second half with an 18-0 run to extend the lead to 67-17.
Buford accounted for seven points, two steals and an assist over that five-minute, 37-second stretch.
Freshman Deshaun Thomas added 20 points and nine rebounds, and classmate Jared Sullinger recorded his sixth double-double of the year with 18 points and 11 boards.
The Buckeyes shot 59 percent from the field en route to their second 100-point performance this season. OSU held the Skyhawks to a mere 27 percent shooting, the best they’ve done against any opponent this season.
“I didn’t think it would be as bad as it was,” said Skyhawks coach Jason James.
With OSU starting the game with a 27-5 run, Matta was able to go to the bench early and often. Nine Buckeyes saw playing time in the first half, and 10 saw at least six minutes of action.
“We’ve been able to get guys a lot of minutes,” Matta said. “I just hope they keep the same mind set and work to get better.”
With an 89-32 lead, Matta went with a lineup of five freshmen for the final 5:54 of the game.
The lopsided score prompted many in attendance to make an early exit. Those who stayed stood in applause as Thomas approached the free-throw line with a chance to push the Buckeyes’ point total to the century mark.
“We were just ready to come in and blow this team out, you know, get 100,” Thomas said. “How we play and (with) how many teammates we have that can score the ball, we can put up 100 every game.”
The last time OSU was undefeated entering conference play was during the 2005-06 season, which saw the Buckeyes earn an outright Big Ten title. This year’s team will start its quest to equal that accomplishment when it travels to Indiana on Friday.
“That’s a whole new season,” Buford said. “That is nothing like the non-conference.”