Five Things We Learned from Blowing out George Mason
By Brandon Castel
CLEVELAND — Ohio State was out to win a game Sunday, but they ended up making a big statement in the process.
After Pittsburgh lost to Butler Saturday and Duke got a scare from Michigan Sunday, it seemed like No. 1 seeds were being targeted for extinction. The Buckeyes fell behind 11-2 early and they could have gotten tight, especially if they watched any of the scores from the earlier game.
Instead, they stuck to their game plan and ran George Mason out of the gym. It was an impressive performance by the No. 1 overall seed and one that should serve notice to the rest of the field.
Here’s a look at five things we learned from a 98-66 blowout in the second round of the tournament.
1. Ohio State is unbeatable when David Lighty is on. This team has so many weapons offensively that it really is hard to pinpoint where the danger will come from on any given night. Like most teams, George Mason coach Jim Larranaga said their top priority was to stop Jared Sullinger inside. After that they had to keep Jon Diebler from burying them on the outside, and then you hope William Buford isn’t shooting the ball well. That leaves David Lighty as the No. 4 option for the Buckeyes, but he is more than capable of playing like a first option.
Lighty burned the Patriots for 25 points Sunday, and when he’s playing like that, good luck stopping this team. He is the one guy who can get to the basket off the bounce, but now teams can’t expect him to be ineffective from the outside. That makes it nearly impossible to defend the perimeter, especially when Buford and Diebler get going like they did Sunday. When Lighty is playing with confidence at the offensive end, he makes it hard to double-team Sullinger in the post and gives Diebler and Buford that much more space to work with.
2. You won’t like them when they’re angry. This Ohio State team is full of likable guys who enjoy being around each other. They truly seem to be a fun-loving group who just like to go out and play the game, but it is not a wise idea to poke the bear. They might seem lovable on the surface, but they take things to a whole different level when they get mad. We saw that Sunday when the George Mason players started talking after they got out to an 11-2 lead. That should have been the foundation for a potential upset, instead Ohio State went on a 50-15 run to put the game away for good.
3. Matta is a better strategist than he gets credit for. It has been a while since Thad Matta has been called a great recruiter who isn’t much of a coach, but that still follows him a little bit as a coach because of the freedom he gives his guys on the court. But few coaches in college basketball do a better job of having their guys ready to play. With the help of his seniors, he has managed to keep this team focused on the task at hand for the better part of two years now, and that is great coaching. He did a good job of adjusting in the opener when Texas-San Antonio tried to slow down the game against the Buckeyes, and he changed his substitution patterns Sunday to make sure he kept Jared Sullinger out of foul trouble.
That was huge, because Sullinger picked up his first foul less than four minutes into the game. With the way the game was being played early, it seemed like only a matter of time before he picked up his second foul. Matta wasn’t going to wait for the refs. He yanked Sullinger out of the game before he could pick up his second and then did a great job of alternating Sullinger and Dallas Lauderdale on offense and defense the rest of the half. It kept Sullinger from picking up another foul (he finished with two for the game), which would have completely changed the dynamic of the first half.
4. Maybe Craft is the second-coming of Conley. After Ohio State’s first round win over Texas-San Antonio, I pointed out that Craft had one of his worst games of the year at both ends of the floor. He got in first-half foul trouble, went scoreless for the game and allowed UTSA point guard Devin Gibson to get 24 points. That wasn’t all Craft’s fault because not everyone can be Mike Conley Jr. playing in their first NCAA Tournament.
I may have spoke too soon. Just two days after turning in one of his worst performances of the season, Craft had one of his best against George Mason. He came off the bench and provided a huge spark for the Buckeyes in the first half when they needed it most. Obviously Lighty was doing the bulk of the scoring, but Craft was making big plays all over the court. Not only did he finish with a school-record 15 assists, he also had six points and six big rebounds, including three at the offensive end.
There were three plays that stuck out for Craft Sunday. They first was his bullet-pass to Sullinger for a 3-point play where he showed off the arm that made him a high school quarterback. He got a big rebound at the end of the first half and found Diebler for the last-second three, and then of course the spinning dive he made on the assist to Diebler for the 4-point play.
5. Eddie Days free throw was the perfect finish. Everything seemed to go just as planned, if not better, for the Buckeyes Sunday. They started slow and had a lull to begin the second half, but the rest of the game was a complete runaway for No. 1 Ohio State. They were even able to get 21 minutes for Lauderdale, 13 for Deshaun Thomas and eight for Jordan Sibert because of the lopsided win. The one thing that was missing, however, was Eddie Days. The senior walk-on had never a scored a point in his Ohio State career, so when he got off the bench with three minutes left in the game, the crowd went wild. A native of Cleveland, Days has overcome a lot of adversity to be on this team, and it was only fitting that he came in the game and knocked down a free throw for his first career point. Better yet, it came in his hometown in front of friends and family at Quicken Loans Arena.
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