Shortly after tip against Louisiana-Monroe, the Ohio State Buckeyes looked as if they wanted to finish their final non-conference game as quickly as possible.
No. 3 OSU (13-0, 0-0) jumped out to a 12-0 lead in the opening four minutes against the Warhawks (3-5, 0-0), and cruised to an easy 71-31 victory Friday.
“I’m excited. Honestly, I’m just ecstatic. I can’t wait,” senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said after the win about the opportunity to start Big Ten play next week. “I know it’s going to be fun, some great challenges. We’re going to learn a lot about this team. All the games up to this point is what we’ve been preparing for — the Big Ten conference.”
The Buckeyes are set to travel to Purdue Tuesday. The Big Ten conference currently has four teams in the top 25, with three being in the top five.
“I think sometimes during the non-conference, as you play some of these teams that are not as good as you are, you actually play down to them. That’s not good for teams, that’s not what you’re supposed to do,” junior forward LaQuinton Ross said after the win. “When we come out in Big Ten play, there’s going to be teams that are just as good as us, and we’re going to have to play.”
Ross finished with a double-double against Louisiana-Monroe, pouring in 15 points and collecting 10 rebounds. He was one of three Buckeyes to finish the game in double figures scoring, as sophomore guard Amedeo Della Valle tallied 14 and Smith Jr. led all scorers with 17.
“I was very pleased with the energy we played with. Defensively I thought we were unselfish, offensively I thought we missed some open shots that I wish we could make, but for the most part, I thought they did a good job of getting themselves ready to play,” OSU coach Thad Matta said following the win.
Louisiana-Monroe shot just 10 of 54 from the field, including 3 of 18 from beyond the 3-point line. No player scored more than seven points against OSU, who heads into Big Ten play as one of two undefeated teams in the conference along with No. 4 Wisconsin. Matta said the tough play in the conference is the reason players come to play at OSU.
“We tell our guys, ‘You’ve got 18 battles coming up. The war’s decided in March,’” Matta said. “Just from the standpoint of the challenges that lie ahead, that’s what guys sign up for when they come to play at Ohio State. There’s going to be some tremendous battles every night we take the floor, and I think for us, it’s exciting.”
OSU led, 41-20, at halftime and used a 15-0 run to open the second half to put things even further out of reach. Louisiana-Monroe failed to score its first point in the second half until there was just 10:40 left to play.
The Buckeyes won 12 of their 13 non-conference games by at least 10 points, with the only exception coming Dec. 21 when they defeated Notre Dame 64-61, and seem prime for the rugged Big Ten.
“I think what these 13 games did, it showed us where we measure out at — how good our team really is,” Ross said. “Going back through some of the games, I’m pretty sure the coaches are going to go back and look at some of those games and think about some of those games and see what we have done, see how we have grown from the first game to this game right here. I think it’s just going to to give us a measurement, how good our team is for the Big Ten.”
Even though the Buckeyes are one of the nation’s top-ranked teams, that doesn’t necessarily mean much, Smith Jr. said.
“I don’t really think those rankings mean anything,” Smith Jr. said. “I think you take away everybody’s rankings right now because when you get into conference play, each night if you don’t come to play, you’re going to lose.”
Tipoff between the Buckeyes and Boilermakers (10-3, 0-0) Tuesday is set for 1 p.m. at Mackey Arena.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that OSU won each of their non-conference games by at least 10 points. In fact, the Buckeyes won 12 of their 13 games by at least double digits, only defeating Notre Dame by three points Dec. 21.