Breaking Down Ohio State’s Home-Opener Against Albany
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It was a slow start for the Buckeyes on Sunday after they couldn’t get off the ground in what was supposed to be their season-opener down in Charleston, S.C. on Friday night.
That game against Marquette was cancelled because of condensation on the court, which happened to be on the top deck of the USS Yorktown, but the Buckeyes finally got things going late in the first half against Albany on Sunday.
Aaron Craft scored 20 and Deshaun Thomas added 19 in an 82-60 victory to open Thad Matta’s ninth season in Columbus. Here’s a break down of what we saw from each player on the court in the first real game of the 2012-13 season.
The Starting 5
30 Evan Ravenel (6-8, Sr.) — As he had planned to do Friday night, Matta went with a different starting lineup Sunday than the one he used for the exhibition game. Senior Evan Ravenel got the start at center, but he was largely ineffective in 15 minutes. Ravenel did grab four rebounds, but he did not score a point or have a block against Albany center John Puk, a 6-10 junior out of Waterloo, Iowa.
1 Deshaun Thomas (6-7, So.) — It was a slow start for Thomas in his first real game as the centerpiece of Ohio State’s offense. He missed three shots in the first two minutes and started just 1-7 from the floor. In the past, Thomas would have gotten frustrated and worried about Matta taking him out of the game. That wasn’t the case on Sunday. His shots were not bad looks, they just weren’t going down for him early in the game.
His teammates kept him calm, and eventually Deshaun found his magic touch. He scored 13 of his 19 points during Ohio State’s key 17-2 run to close the first half. He also knocked down a three to open the second half and it looked like he might go for 30 in the opener, but he let other guys handle the scoring from there. After shooting it 13 times in the first half, Thomas took only four shots in the second.
12 Sam Thompson (6-7, So.) — After coming off the bench in the exhibition game, Thompson made the first start of his career on Sunday. He didn’t show much offensively that we didn’t see from him a year ago, but he is exactly what this team needs him to be. Eventually, he’s going to have show us that jumper he worked so hard on during the offseason, but Thompson’s primary roles on this team will be energy, defense and rebounding. He had five boards in 27 minutes against Albany, but the area where he really impressed was his ability to get back down the court and block shots in transition. He’s going to make a lot of defensive plays this year that other guys in the country simply cannot make.
32 Lenzelle Smith, Jr. (6-4, Jr.) — Smith is going to be a sneaky player for the Buckeyes this season. Albany coach Will Brown said he was shocked by how thick and strong Smith is, because they expected him to be some wiry outside shooter. He didn’t shoot much in the first half, with just five points through the first 19 minutes, but his three-pointer at the buzzer may have been the biggest play of the game. It propelled Ohio State to a 14-point halftime lead, and Smith to a big day offensively. He finished with 18 points on 8-11 shooting, and added five rebounds in 30 minutes. They may need him to do that more than a few times this year.
4 Aaron Craft (6-2, Jr.) — Where do we start with Aaron Craft? The season wasn’t even two minutes old when he went diving over a row of seats into the crowd at Value City Arena on Sunday. He took a charge on defense and dished out seven assists, which would have been a pretty great night for him a year ago. Only this time, Craft led the Buckeyes with a career-high 20 points. He scored on a nice little hesitation dribble – which was the same move he used on the sweet pass to Smith at the end of the first half – but the thing that impressed the most was the way he shot the ball outside with confidence. He’s probably not going to go 5-7 behind the arc every night, but it was good to see him shoot when the opportunity was there. He didn’t hesitate or look to give up the ball the way has the last two years, and that could be an important development. This team needs scorers to go along with Deshuan, and Craft could be that guy if he really has developed his outside shot.
First 3 Off the Bench
3 Shannon Scott (6-1, So.) — Scott didn’t put up big numbers on Sunday, but was as effective off the bench as we have ever seen him. It’s clear Matta wants to get Scott on the floor as much as possible, and he looks like the de facto sixth man early in the year. He got some time with and without Craft against Albany, and finished with nine points on 4-5 shooting. He showed great burst in the open court and looked much more comfortable getting to the basket. He made a nice play early in the first half to get the and-one on a steal by Thomas, and then had a nifty little move where he laid a finger roll off the glass for his second basket of the night. Scott also had three assists and two steals in 19 minutes, but he did have a couple careless turnovers.
23 Amir Williams (6-11, So.) — It wasn’t a great day for Williams, who came off the bench at the 14:52 mark in the first half after starting the exhibition game. He was on the floor for the entire 17-2 run to close out the first half, but statistically, the Buckeyes are going to need more from their center position. It’s not so much that he didn’t score, it’s that he didn’t really contribute anything at the other end in 16 minutes off the bench. Williams grabbed only two rebounds and no blocked shots on Sunday. He had two fouls, turned the ball over once and missed both of his free throws. The big problem with Williams going forward is all the loose balls that slip between his hands. They need him to grab those, especially if he’s not going to contribute much offensively.
10 LaQuinton Ross (6-8, So.) — Talk about a kid who is just hitting the tip of the iceberg right now. Ross looked a little out of sorts for most of the game and never really seemed to quite find his place within the offense, but this is a kid with limitless potential. He has a silky-smooth jump shot and excellent handles for a kid who is 6-8 and built the way he’s built. He has to work on his touch around the basket if they are going to post him up against smaller guys, and his defense is a long way off (think Deshaun Thomas as a freshman), but what they need Ross to be is a guy who can give them 10-12 points a night off the bench. He finished with 10 in the opener on 4-8 shooting, but the biggest area where he surprised me was his rebounding. He’s a big guy with long arms, but that doesn’t always mean automatic boards. He really went after the ball at both ends, and finished with five rebounds in 23 minutes. It would be huge if he could give them 5-6 rebounds a night off the bench.
Emptying the Bench
55 Trey McDonald (6-8, So.) — The team’s third big man did not play in the first half, but he did check in to the game with nine minutes and 24 seconds left. The Buckeyes led by 25 when McDonald replaced Williams as the center, which allowed Matta to get the sophomore some valuable playing time. He didn’t contribute much, just two points, one rebound and an assist in nine minutes, but he was the only big man who scored a point. It actually came on a nice little back-down move where he turned inside, scored and was fouled.
33 Amedeo Della Valle (6-5, Fr.) — Ohio State’s only freshman did not dress for the game against Albany because of a sprained ankle, but he did show off some impressive dance moves before the game. He is out of the walking boot and Matta said he expects to have him back for practice on Tuesday.
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