For the Ohio State men’s basketball team, it starts with defense, and sometimes, it ends with an exclamation point on offense.
That was the case multiple times Wednesday as the Buckeyes took care of future Big Ten conference opponent Maryland, 76-60, as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
The Buckeyes forced 14 Maryland turnovers, which led to 25 points, some of which went to junior forward Sam Thompson for a series of ferocious dunks.
Thompson was on the receiving end of four alley-oops during the course of the game, electrifying the home crowd on his way to 14 points.
“(Junior guard) Shannon (Scott) and (senior guard Aaron) Craft are so good at forcing steals and getting us out in transition. They draw so much attention when they’re in the open floor that I just do the easy part and I finish it,” Thompson said about his dunks after the win. “They’ve always put the ball right on the money and allow me to just dunk it home. Really all the credit goes to Shannon and Craft.”
OSU started fast, particularly from beyond the 3-point arc, as junior forward LaQuinton Ross buried his first four shots from deep to help the Buckeyes start with an early 18-9 lead. Ross finished with 20 points on 7-13 shooting, carrying over the hot hand he had in OSU’s 99-64 victory against North Florida, when he poured in 17.
“I think he’s slowed things down in his mind, and it definitely makes us a better basketball team because there’s another guy out there that can stretch the defense,” OSU coach Thad Matta said following the win. “The look on his face is a little bit different.”
The quick start allowed the Buckeyes to hold a 43-26 advantage at the half, highlighted by a driving and spinning lay up by Thompson after a steal by Craft on the other end.
“We (OSU) took the timeout, and said they’re going to take one shot, let’s get a little bit risky here in terms of pushing up our pressure and for (Thompson) to get down the floor and flick it up like that, was just a tremendous play,” Matta said.
In the first four games of the season, the Buckeyes (7-0, 0-0) did not shoot as well from the floor as they did Wednesday, when they shot 52.1 percent. Matta said that is a result of more successful shooting in practice.
“I felt like the last couple weeks our percentages (shooting the ball) in practice have been very, very high,” Matta said. “And to carry it over into the last couple games, it’s good because when you see how hard these kids work and all the things that we do, you like to see them play well on game night.”
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon agreed, calling the Buckeyes’ effort “terrific.”
“I thought they executed at a high level,” Turgeon said. “And they’re a good defensive team. We didn’t make shots tonight.”
Maryland (5-3, 0-0) made 25 of 64 shots from the field, and because of high defensive pressure, the Buckeyes held leading scorer, sophomore forward Jake Layman, to just two points.
“(OSU had) 25 points off turnovers. So how do you think we handled it?” Turgeon said about the pressure applied by the Buckeyes in the game. “I just don’t think we competed when we needed to compete.”
The high-pressure defense has become a staple for OSU since Matta came to Columbus, something that Thompson said is never going to go away.
“It’s always our defense. No matter how well we’re shooting the ball, no matter how well we’re playing offensively, we’ll always be a team that hangs our hats on the defensive end,” Thompson said. “And we will always like to get our offense from our defense.”
Next up, OSU is scheduled to do battle against Central Connecticut Saturday. Tipoff is set for 4:30 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.