Up and At ‘Em
Matta’s Outburst Sparks Buckeyes in Home Opener
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — With the clock winding down and defenders closing in all around him, Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft used his newfound hesitation move to find a wide-open Lenzelle Smith, Jr. in the corner.
Smith buried the jump shot from long distance just as the first half buzzer sounded inside Value City Arena. It capped a 17-2 run for the 4th-ranked Buckeyes (1-0) to close out the half, and Ohio State went on to an 82-60 win over Albany on Sunday.
The run to close out the first half came after OSU head coach Thad Matta exploded on his team during a timeout. He was furious with his defense for allowing an easy layup to Albany forward Sam Rowley, but more so with the way his guys handled themselves after the play was over.
“It definitely sparked a run,” Matta admitted after his ninth home-opener at Ohio State.
“It was a scramble situation. Those things are going to present themselves, but what I didn’t like was one of our guys putting his palms in the air and saying something to a teammate.”
That play gave the Great Danes (0-1) a 23-22 lead at the 4:46 mark of the first half, and Matta was furious. He came flying up off his seat on the bench and out on to the court. He immediately called a timeout and substituted sophomore Amir Williams at center after senior Evan Ravenel had gotten the start.
“I saw Thad jump off the bench, and it looked like he had a 40-inch vertical,” Albany coach Will Brown said after the game.
“I saw how animated he was and coming out of the timeout, I thought that ignited them. The run was bad but the three at the end of the half, I think can be deflating for a team.”
It was also a tremendous confidence-booster for Smith, who scored 10 of his 18 points in the second half as the Buckeyes opened on a 21-10 run to extend their lead to 25 with less than 10 minutes to play.
Junior Deshaun Thomas opened the second-half scoring with a three from the corner. It gave him 19 points for the game, with all but three of them coming after Matta’s timeout at the 4:44 mark in the first half.
“My freshman year I probably would have hung my head and pouted a little bit,” said Thomas, who made just one of his first seven shots to start the game.
“My teammates kept telling just to stay with and keep shooting, eventually they’re going to start going in and that’s exactly what happened.”
Ohio State’s preseason All-American made six of his last 10 shots from the floor and finished the game 7-17 overall and 4-9 from behind the ark. He managed only three rebounds in 30 minutes, however, which was a major concern for Matta at halftime.
The Buckeyes had been outrebounded 19-16 on their home floor by Albany and his two big men, Williams and Ravenel, combined for zero points and six rebounds in 31 minutes of basketball.
Lenzelle Smith, LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson all tied for the team lead with five rebounds, but the Buckeyes finished even with Albany on the boards at 32 apiece. Ohio State did force 16 turnovers while holding the Danes to just 36 percent shooting, including a 6-22 performance behind the arc.
The Buckeyes knocked down 12 of their 20 attempts from long range, and it was point guard Aaron Craft who led the way. Ohio State’s star junior has been known primarily for his defense over the past two seasons, but led the team with a career-high 20 points on Sunday. He also had seven assistants in 31 minutes while connected on five threes for the first time in an Ohio State uniform.
“Like I said to my staff going into the game, if Craft hits 5-6 threes we’re going to lose,” Brown said.
“And he hits five. He’s going to be in the NBA for 10 years, I’m sure.”
Craft did not have a steal, which Matta was quick to point out after the game, but did make some of his usual hustle plays, including one where he launched himself over the front row of seats and into the crowd just two minutes into the season.
Sophomore Sam Thompson provided the defensive heroics for Ohio State with four emphatic blocks. He also scored four points, dished out three assists and grabbed five rebounds in the first start of his collegiate career.
Classmate LaQuinton Ross scored 10 points on 4-8 shooting in 23 minutes off the bench and Shannon Scott, who appears to be the team’s de facto sixth man, added nine points, three assists and two steals.
The game was not televised, but a replay can be seen on Big Ten Network at 9:30 p.m. on Monday. Matta’s team will play its first nationally-televised game of the year on Saturday when they face Rhode Island (5 p.m. ET, ESPN3) in the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off in Uncasville, Conn.
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