Five Things We Learned: Opening-Round Win over UTSA
By Brandon Castel
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Buckeye fans showed up in full force at Quicken Loans Arena Friday to cheer on No. 1-seed Ohio State in their opening-round game against Texas-San Antonio.
After rousing applause for Cleveland natives David Lighty and Dallas Lauderdale during player introductions, the top-ranked Buckeyes dispatched of their 16-seeded foes with the ease one might expect from the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
William Buford scored a team-high 18 points, Jon Diebler scored 14 and Deshaun Thomas chipped in with 13 points off the bench as Ohio State defeated the Roadrunners 75-46.
We take a look at five things we learned from the opening-round victory over UTSA.
1. Ohio State is true No. 1 seed. It seems like ages ago, but it was just two years back that Ohio State lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to little-known Siena. Great teams obviously find a way to get it done in the first round, but great No. 1 seeds find a way to punish 16 seeds in the opening round. Had Ohio State struggled with Texas San Antonio in the first round, there would have been serious questions about the Buckeyes going forward. Instead, they pounded the Roadrunners by nearly 30 points, erasing any doubt of their legitimacy as a No. 1 seed. It won’t mean a whole lot if they stumble against Marquette in the second round, but it has to be exactly the start Matta was looking for out of his squad.
They shared the basketball, they scored from inside and out, they won the battle on the glass and they got it done on the defensive end, especially in the second half. David Lighty was great against Melvin Johnson III, holding him to a season-low five points just two days after he scored a career-high 29 against Alabama State.
2. Don’t run zone against Ohio State. On the surface it might seem like a good idea. It’s nearly impossible to defend Jared Sullinger one-on-one in the paint, and if you double-team him it leaves somebody on Ohio State wide open on the perimeter. Even if that’s David Lighty or Aaron Craft, both of them are capable of knocking down wide-open jumpers. With a zone defense, a team like San Antonio can avoid that decision all-together, but at what cost? They were so focused on Sullinger in the paint Friday, that they left things open on the outside for Buford and Diebler. Ohio State’s two best outside shooters absolutely killed the zone, going a combined 7-of-12 behind the arc and 11-of-21 from the floor. If teams are going to zone them up the rest of the way, Ohio State will be more than happy to make them pay with their outside shooting.
3. Buford is still the key. I’ve been saying it for a while now, but you saw firsthand today how important William Buford is to this team. Much like Evan Turner last year, Buford is the guy who makes things go for Ohio State offensively. His game is not the same a Turner’s, and obviously Aaron Craft is the best distributor on the team, but Buford is the guy who can completely take over a game at any given moment. Diebler has that ability when his threes are falling, but Buford’s diverse game makes him nearly impossible for college defenders to handle.
What makes him the key to Ohio State is the fact that opposing teams are first going to try to take away Sullinger in the paint and then Diebler behind the arc. They know they can’t afford to let either of them take over the game, but it’s impossible to take away Diebler, Sullinger and Buford. David Lighty has had his moments and Craft can be effective getting to the basket, but Buford is an NBA-caliber scorer who draws the third most attention on his team.
4. Deshaun Thomas can actually pass the basketball. Who knew? The kid has had such a quick trigger finger since he got to Ohio State, we never even stopped to ask whether he could be a good passer if he wanted to be. I think now we know that Thomas can do just about anything he puts his mind to. He is a fantastic scorer, albeit one who is still learning to play within the system, and an effective rebounder. The coaching staff recently told Thomas he was the best offensive rebounder on the team. He had four of them Friday, and finished with eight rebounds in 20 minutes. He also dished out three assists, including a great pass to Dallas Lauderdale for a two-handed dunk. There were other times in the game where Thomas passed him his shot for a teammate. It didn’t always lead to an assist, but it is further proof that he is becoming a more complete basketball player by the day.
5. Aaron Craft isn’t Mike Conley. Although just about everything went right for the Buckeyes Friday against UTSA, the one thing that didn’t was the play of Aaron Craft. The young point guard struggled at both ends of the floor, allowing a team-high 24 points to Roadrunner point guard Devin Gibson. Craft got in early foul trouble and seemed it seemed to affect his aggressiveness the rest of the way. He only took two shots from the floor, but missed both of them and finished with no points for the first time since December. He did have seven assists, but also turned it over three times. It wasn’t a terrible game for Craft, who had been playing very well as of late. What it was is a reminder that not everyone can be Mike Conley Jr. in their first NCAA Tournament.
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