For Ohio State men’s basketball coach Thad Matta and his team, the voyage into the 2015-16 season has just begun, but so far, its ship is sailing in the right direction.
The young Buckeyes notched their second win in as many tries on Tuesday at the Schottenstein Center in convincing fashion over Grambling State, 82-55.
Leading the way for OSU was redshirt sophomore guard Kam Williams with 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting. Coming off the bench, Williams provided key energy and multiple highlight plays, including a thunderous dunk in the second half and three 3-pointers. He also added five rebounds and four steals.
It was the effort on the other side of the floor that sparked his key offensive output, Williams said.
“I want to attribute that to my defense,” he said. “I was active, locked in. I was using my athleticism on defense and that got me going offensively … I just want my defense to come first because I feel like I can really impact the game that way.”
Along with Williams, junior forward Marc Loving chipped in 14 points and five rebounds, while sophomore forward Keita Bates-Diop joined him in double-figures with 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting.
Pacing overmatched Grambling State were freshman guard Nigel Ribeiro and junior guard Remond Brown with a dozen points each.
The Tigers, who finished last season 2-27 and lost their top scorer to graduation, weren’t expected to be anything beyond just an early-season tune-up for the Scarlet and Gray.
From the opening tip to the final buzzer, that proved true.
Using the same starting lineup as it did against Mount St. Mary’s in the season opener, OSU scored the game’s first points after an and-1 by Bates-Diop.
It took just 41 seconds for the Buckeyes to grab the lead, and they would not relinquish it from there.
Trying to make up for its lack of talent with energy, Grambling State was very active early on, but all that led to was excessive whistles. In the first four minutes, the Tigers committed six fouls. For the game, they finished with 23.
The abundance of fouls caused much of the game to take place in the halfcourt. But fortunately for Matta’s crew, the Buckeyes came ready to knock down shots.
OSU connected on 58.8 percent of its field-goal attempts, up from the 50 percent it shot in the opener.
The Buckeyes got off to a hot start, netting seven of their first 10 field goals, including a two-minute stretch that featured three different players hitting from beyond the arc.
Sophomore forward Jae’Sean Tate hit a 3-pointer at the 15:44 mark to match his season-total of three from a year before in just two games. Bates-Diop and Loving found the bottom of the net over the next few possessions to give OSU a 17-9 lead.
After a short dry spell, Grambling State’s sophomore center Ugur Hortum hit a mid-range jumper to cut the Buckeyes’ lead to six at 17-11.
But from there, the Scarlet and Gray peeled off a 14-0 run to essentially clinch the game.
Bates-Diop started things off with a pair of three throws and a jumper, then Williams took his turn, forcing two steals to add a layup and 3-pointer. The baton was then passed to freshman point guard A.J. Harris who chipped in five straight points to make things 31-11.
It was this type of balance, along with Grambling State’s 15 fouls and 13 turnovers, that defined the Buckeyes’ first half.
Seven different players scored, including three — Bates-Diop (12), Loving (10) and Williams (10) — in double-figures, to give OSU a 44-20 lead entering the locker room.
Highly touted freshman guard JaQuan Lyle was quiet for much of the first half after picking up two quick fouls. He finished with just two points, but he did have seven assists, five of which came in the second half.
“I thought JaQuan was not as into it as he probably needed to be tonight,” Matta said.
The coach said he talked to his star freshman at halftime, telling him that even if he isn’t finding the bottom of the net, he can still make his presence felt on the floor by facilitating the offense.
Against Mount St. Mary’s in the season opener, the Buckeyes got a little complacent early in the second half after having a 21-point lead.
OSU seemed to have learned from its prior mistake, as no early second-half slump took place.
The Scarlet and Gray kept the foot on the gas pedal, swelling its lead to 56-25 in the frame’s opening five minutes behind redshirt sophomore center Trevor Thompson’s personal 8-0 run.
Matta said he was happy to see Thompson making plays in the paint, which is exactly what the young Buckeyes need.
“We were saying, ‘We need to throw the ball inside,’” Matta said. “(Thompson) did a great job sealing off and finishing. We’ve got to get that balance of the inside-out. It’s a great way to play.”
Building off what Matta said about being able to play inside-out, OSU did knock down outside shots.
Freshman guard Austin Grandstaff, who was recruited for his shooting ability, showed why midway through the second half by netting a pair of 3-pointers, the second of which gave OSU a 72-35 lead.
“He’s got a role on this basketball team and we need him to do it and do it well,” Matta said. “We know that he shoot the basketball … I was excited to see the ball go in for him.”
In the season opener, Grandstaff saw action early but picked up two quick fouls, forcing Matta to send him back to the bench. On Tuesday, the Texas native had just one foul.
“He’s still learning a lot on the defensive end, but not fouling tonight was a step in the right direction for him,” Matta said.
A minor push from the Tigers after Matta cleared the bench cut into the lead, but the Buckeyes prevailed for the 27-point victory.
Ten of the 11 players who saw the floor for OSU scored, including freshman center David Bell, who registered in the scoring column for the first time in his career with three points.
Turnovers again were an issue for the Buckeyes, as they had 17. Matta said he will continue to harp on his young guys, trying to get them under control. All things considered, he was pleased with what he saw Tuesday night, but he said he knows they have room to improve.
“I thought we were better tonight than we were on Sunday, especially in the second half,” Matta said. “I’m not asking the guys to play perfect but we have to be a little more sound in terms of what we are doing there.”
OSU has a couple of days off before it is scheduled to hit the hardwood again on Friday against Texas-Arlington in Columbus. Tipoff is penciled in for 7 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.