Daniel Chi / Asst. photo editor
Before the Ohio State men’s basketball team could make its game against Chicago State look easy, they made it puzzlingly hard.
Such exertion ultimately made for little more than a speed bump for the No. 10 team in the country, though.
After an exceptionally woeful shooting performance doomed the Buckeyes against No. 6 Kansas Sunday, Thad Matta’s crew handled the Cougars, 87-44, in its last non-conference pillow fight before Big Ten play.
This particular triumph against Chicago State (3-12) Saturday came in similar form and flavor to OSU’s first nine wins.
The Buckeyes (10-2), which shot just 25 percent from the floor in the second half of their game against the Jayhawks, had little trouble connecting against an overmatched opponent. But it didn’t come without a customary sluggish start.
“We had a couple guys who weren’t ready to play today,” Matta said. “That was obvious.”
And while such lack of preparation hardly was cause for panic for the Buckeyes, it made for an uneasy tone in front of a sleepy Schottenstein Center.
Almost inexplicably, even after some players vowed to work harder at creating their own shot in Friday interviews, OSU settled for deep-albeit often wide-open-3-point tries early before seeming to realize that perhaps playing the team with the worst record in the Great West conference shouldn’t be so taxing.
Chicago State’s zone defense, a brand admittedly not typically employed by the Cougars, tempted and baited OSU into taking jump shots.
“I’m sure we did surprise them,” Cougars coach Tracy Dildy said. “I’m sure they watched film and they hardly saw any zone.”
For about the first 12 minutes of the half, it seemed to be working.
Against the zone, junior guard Aaron Craft said OSU “started chucking up 3s.”
“We got kind of antsy at times,” Craft, who had 10 points and six assists, said.
The Buckeyes, much like they did in a 2-of-18 jaunt from behind the arc against Kansas, clunked their way to a 2-of-9 outing from the 3-point line in the first half. Conversely, the long ball might’ve been the only thing offensively keeping Dildy’s squad in the contest.
Then came OSU junior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr.’s moment of clarity, whose trio of long balls were met with the back of the iron and exasperated claps.
“After I shot that third 3 and it didn’t go down, I told myself stop shooting 3s,” Smith Jr., who had 13 points, said.
Matta’s crew seemed to start following suit.
The Buckeyes, which found that they were far better slashing and sharing the ball through the zone, finished the half on a 23-10 run before connecting on five of its first six possessions in the second half.
The 3-point shots, which had been kind to the Cougars early, weren’t falling anymore and OSU made certain to turn their misfortunes into points of their own off of swift play in transition and crisp ball movement.
By the 10-minute mark of the second half, the contest, which started with the same shooting ailments that plagued the Buckeyes against the Jayhawks, turned into a comical battle to see if OSU could surpass the 70-point mark, which guarantees free small French fries from McDonald’s for each of the 16,881 in attendance.
Back were the theatrics. Back were the dunks from sophomore forward Sam Thompson, who effortlessly floated toward the basket for an alley-oop late in the game that felt like a glorified shootaround. Freshman guard Amedeo Della Valle did his part too, and drained 3-of-4 3-pointers to push the Buckeyes’ lead to 45 points with 2:18 to play in the contest.
Much how they had routed similar opponents like Albany, Northern Kentucky, Long Beach State and Savannah State and UNC Asheville, the Buckeyes proved their dominion over teams almost certainly inferior to them.
With Big Ten play starting Wednesday against Nebraska, though, OSU likely needs to shore up alarming areas of concern after dropping its only two games to quality opponent in Kansas and Duke on Nov. 28.
Rocking the Cougars, likely, didn’t answer any of those questions.
Regardless, conference play knocks at the door.
“Every night is gonna be fight night,” said OSU junior forward Deshaun Thomas.
OSU is set to face Nebraska Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.