Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
The Ohio State basketball team is expected to blow out non-Division I teams, but In the Buckeyes’ Tuesday exhibition game meeting with Walsh, OSU was only 12 points better than the NCAA Division II foe.
In their first competitive action since falling in the 2012 NCAA Tournament’s Final Four round, the Buckeyes, ranked No. 4 in the Associated Press preseason top 25 poll, continued prep work for the 2012-13 season with a 83-71 exhibition game win against the Cavaliers Tuesday at the Schottenstein Center.
OSU returns three starters – junior forward Deshaun Thomas and junior guards Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. – from the 2011-12 team that finished with a 31-8 overall record on its way to a national semifinal appearance. That trio combined for 36 points in the game with Thomas leading the way with 25 points on 9-of-17 shooting.
Craft said Walsh deserved credit for forcing a close result.
“They came in and weren’t backing down. We’ve got a lot of things to learn, a long way to go,” Craft said. “The best thing about it is it’s still October.”
OSU will compete in one additional closed-door exhibition game before opening the 2012-13 season at the Carrier Classic on the deck of the USS Yorktown against Marquette Nov. 9, in Charleston, S.C.
The score was hardly of consequence in the game, though Walsh might have raised some eyebrows after leading OSU for most of the first half and then keeping the final score close as well.
The first half was a period of experimentation for OSU coach Thad Matta. The Buckeyes used nine different combinations of players in the opening 20 minutes, and every scholarship player except junior guard Alex Rogers saw time.
Perhaps due to the closer-than-expected outcome, Rogers never made it into the game, nor did walk-on sophomore forward Jake Lorbach.
In what might have been a glimpse into the team’s future, Matta went with a towering starting lineup, choosing Thomas, Smith Jr., Craft, 6-foot-8 sophomore forward LaQuinton Ross, and 6-foot-11 sophomore center Amir Williams for the start.
Thomas said part of the challenge against Walsh was adjusting to the personnel changes.
“Coach (Matta), he said he was going to try different guys. That was going to be a test,” Thomas said. “It worked though. A couple players were off to the side by themselves and, you know, that’s what coach is trying to see. He just wants us to stand in a circle and, you know, (There were) a couple guys out of that circle today, but it was a test. Like Craft said, it’s October. We’re going to be a better basketball team.”
Matta said the lineup changes may have stunted the Buckeyes’ abilities in the game and he expected that.
“I knew going in I was going to start a different starting lineup,” Matta said. “(We were) throwing a lot of different guys in there, which I was OK with. I was OK that we didn’t play as well as we probably wanted to play.”
Despite trailing in the early stages of the contest, OSU took the lead for good at the 2:10 mark in the period when Thomas spun to the rack and laid the ball in as he was fouled. The score and the free throw to follow put the Buckeyes up, 29-27.
OSU scrambled on the final possession of the half before Craft heaved a last-second 3-pointer to send the Buckeyes into break with a 39-30 lead. Despite the lead, OSU was out-rebounded in the half, 20-13.
The Cavaliers didn’t go away quietly in the second half. Walsh senior forward Kenny Kornowski kept his NCAA Division II team in contention with 12 points in the game on 6-of-15 shooting from the floor.
Walsh sophomore forward Jeff Copeland also aided in keeping the Cavaliers competitive as he scored 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting for the visitors.
OSU was visibly frustrated in the second half – players clapped in frustration after missed baskets. The team’s anticipated fast-tempo offense was more than Walsh could cope with, though.
During OSU’s Oct. 11 media day, players and coaches spoke of the fast-tempo offense and they backed up that talk in the second half against the Cavaliers. The fast-paced offense gave the Buckeyes the points they needed to hold off a Walsh rally. OSU rotated the same 10 players in and out of the game, and closed out the win by the 12-point margin.
“It’s frustrating any time you’re losing in a game,” Craft said. “It’s something that you need to experience and you can’t really teach how to play through that, so, facing adversity and facing when things kind of aren’t going your way, that’s something we’re going to have to deal with throughout the year. It’s already hit us. We already have a little taste.”