Young Buckeyes Lean on Sullinger, Buford in Opening Win over Wright State
By Brandon Castel
The Buckeyes showed signs of youth against Wright State University on Friday night, but veterans Jared Sullinger and William Buford lifted them to a 73-42 win in their season-opener.
No. 3-ranked Ohio State (1-0) must replace seniors David Lighty, Jon Diebler and Dallas Lauderdale from their back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances, but they don’t have to worry about replacing Sullinger, who opted to return for his sophomore season.
Photo by Jim Davidson
The slimmed-down version picked up where his heftier self left off a year ago, scoring 19 points, grabbing nine rebounds and blocking three shots in 30 minutes. He also showed off some new tricks, knocking down a three from a foot behind the top of the arc.
Senior William Buford added 13 points and a game-high four assists while sophomore point guard Aaron Craft filled up the box score with 10 points, three rebounds, three assists and three steals in his second-career start.
A.J. Pacher had 13 points and Reggie Arcenaux scored 11 for Wright State (0-1), but the Raiders turned the ball over 25 times, committed 27 fouls and shot just 32.5 percent from the floor in their trip to Value City Arena—including 25 percent in the second half.
Wright State basketball coach Billy Donlon is working with a completely remade roster, but so is Thad Matta in many respects. Ohio State’s eighth-year head coach played six sophomores and four freshmen Friday night, including Deshaun Thomas and Lenzelle Smith Jr., both of whom made the first starts of their young careers.
“Thad Matta is phenomenal. He made it about William Buford and he got everyone involved,” Donlon said.
“Certainly you can’t turn the ball over 25 times and beat Ohio State.”
Thomas scored nine points and added five rebounds (also four turnovers), but it was Smith who sparked the Buckeyes when they needed it. The sophomore out of Zion, Ill. scored eight points, grabbed seven boards and had two steals. He also hit a couple of big threes.
The first one came on a nice dish by freshman Sam Thompson with Ohio State leading 19-14 midway through the first half. Sophomore J.D. Weatherspoon followed shortly with a monstrous dunk on an alley-oop from Buford and the Buckeyes went ahead 29-17 at the 3:27 mark of the first half.
To that point, the Raiders had 13 turnovers, 14 fouls and just six field goals. The Buckeyes had also played a sloppy first half at both ends of the floor, but they opened the second half with a 10-0 run to create some distance at 44-20 with 15:48 left to play.
“That was a player thing. We came out and put our foot in their throats,” Sullinger said.
“We just picked up the intensity even though we were up 14. It’s important for us to keep our intensity.”
They outscored Wright State 34-22 in the first half and 39-22 in the second.
After struggling from the free throw line in their exhibition win over Walsh University, Ohio State was 26-of-38 at the charity stripe Friday night. That included big nights from Sullinger (10-of-12) and Craft (7-of-8).
“We were just trying to be aggressive,” Buford said.
“The referees were calling it, so we just had to stay strong and attack.”
Matta used all 12 of his players in the game, with freshman Trey McDonald getting three minutes off the bench at the end. Weatherspoon left the game after turning his ankle, but Thompson, Jordan Sibert, Shannon Scott and Amir Williams each played double-digit minutes off the bench.
“The entire team has a whole new role. Even Aaron Craft is in a new offensive role,” Donlon said.
“They are going to be phenomenal because that is what that coaching staff does. But I think it is going to take some time.”
The Buckeyes don’t have a lot of that. They host No. 10 Florida on Tues., Nov. 15 (8 p.m. ET, ESPN) in their second game of the season.
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