In his 500th game as a collegiate head coach, Thad Matta led the No. 12 Ohio State men’s basketball team to a 16-point victory over Morehead State for his 385th career win.
Matta is 282-84 in his 11 seasons at OSU and 385-115 overall. He’s just 15 wins away from tying Fred Taylor for the most wins in program history.
After the game, Matta said he feels like he’s coached even more than those 500 games over his career.
“Yes it does, maybe a 1,000,” Matta said. “I didn’t know that (it was 500 games) until yesterday. I was joking when I gave the pregame speech today, I walked out and I said ‘god, it feels like the 500th time I have done that.’”
After taking a 19-point lead at halftime, the Buckeyes (8-1) polished off a 87-71 victory over the Eagles (4-8) on Saturday afternoon at the Schottenstein Center.
“We jumped out quick, got a quick lead on the team,” senior center Amir Williams said after the game. “And I think we just didn’t look back from there.”
OSU turned the ball over six times in the first 8:13 of the second half, allowing Morehead State to cut the deficit to 14. By that time, the Eagles were still shooting 50 percent from 3-point range and 54.5 percent overall.
Going into the game, OSU opponents had averaged a .359 shooting percentage this season.
A layup from freshman guard Jae’Sean Tate followed by a jumper from senior guard Shannon Scott stopped the Eagles’ run, giving the home team a 66-48 lead with about nine minutes to play.
With 6:51 to play, the Buckeyes held an 18-point advantage when Williams left the game with an injury before heading back to the locker room. At the time, Williams had registered 12 points on five-of-six shooting and nine rebounds.
Williams returned to the OSU bench with 5:31 left in the game but didn’t re-enter the game.
After the game, Williams said his injury was just a rolled ankle, and nothing he hasn’t gone through in the past.
“A little sprain, nothing serious,” Williams said. “It’s nothing I haven’t dealt with before, so I’ll be practicing tomorrow.”
Morehead State cut the lead to 78-65 with 2:26 to play, partially because of sloppy play from OSU. After turning the ball over just three times in the first half, the Buckeyes had turned it over 14 times in the final 20 minutes.
Senior forward Sam Thompson said OSU’s mindset in the second half and increased intensity from the Eagles led to the higher number of turnovers.
“They definitely turned up their pressure, that was big-time pressure,” Thompson said after the game. “But our minds just weren’t right. I think that they just didn’t press us much in the first half, and then we sort of came out with the first half mindset in the second half.”
The teams traded baskets as the clock ticked past two minutes, and the Buckeyes extended the lead to 18 points with just 38 seconds remaining.
Morehead State shot 62.5 percent in the second half, and ended up outscoring the Buckeyes, 43-40, after the break.
Thompson said Matta was “not too happy” after the Eagles shot such a high percentage, and outscored his team, in the second half.
“First of all, Morehead State’s a really good team, not taking anything away from them,” Thompson said. “We had a really good first half, and we sort of let our guard down in the second half. We didn’t have that same type of energy and intensity and execution in the second half on both sides of the floor.”
Matta stressed that his guards have to take better care of the ball, and added the Buckeyes’ play in the second half wasn’t up to the standard that he expects.
“D’Angelo (Russell) and Shannon can’t combine for 10 turnovers in a game and only nine assists. We were sloppy. We weren’t as sharp as we needed to be on really both ends,” Matta said. “We did some things that lead one to believe that we weren’t as tuned in as we needed to be.”
OSU jumped out to an early 12-2 lead, but Morehead State kept it close for much of the first half, partially because of the play of redshirt-sophomore guard Corban Collins.
Collins started off five-for-five from the field, including a four-of-four mark from beyond the 3-point line. He finished the first half with a game-high 14 points, but a late OSU run helped the Buckeyes to their big halftime lead.
The Buckeyes’ leading scorer — freshman guard D’Angelo Russell — didn’t register a point through the first 16:31 of the game as OSU held just a nine-point advantage with 3:29 on the clock. Russell followed up two free throws with a 3-pointer just over a minute later before closing out the half with a mid-range jumper with just three seconds to play.
Russell’s seven-point burst helped OSU to a 47-28 lead at the break as the Buckeyes opened and closed the first half with 12-2 runs.
When the teams entered the locker room, Thompson had 11 points to lead OSU while Williams had 10 points and four rebounds.
Williams said he has room to improve, but added that he came into the game hoping to help spark the Buckeyes from the start.
“Still some errors to be corrected, but I just tried to get out to a good start,” he said. “Coach always tells me, and the players tell me as well, if I come out with energy it gets my teammates going as well, so I try to come out and play with as much energy as I can.”
Russell and Thompson led OSU with 15 points apiece, while Tate and Williams each finished the game with 12 points. Russell led all players with seven assists and Williams’ nine rebounds were a game high, as were his five blocks.
Thompson said Williams’ play inside helps set the tone for the rest of the team, especially on defense.
“Amir does such a great job blocking shots, and we put a lot of pressure on him because our zone really funnels everything to him,” he said. “He’s always a big force in the middle, he’s always blocking shots and getting rebounds.”
Collins led all players with 22 points as he made six of seven 3-point attempts.
OSU is scheduled to return to the court on Wednesday against North Carolina A&T. That game is set to be played at Nationwide Arena in downtown Columbus at 7 p.m.