Ross Provides Lift in Lackluster Win over NKU
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Call it a hangover from the intensity of Ohio State’s late collapse at Duke on Wednesday, but the Buckeyes needed a career night from sophomore LaQuinton Ross to jumpstart their win over Northern Kentucky three days later.
The fourth-ranked Buckeyes won by nearly 30 points, but Thad Matta’s team left plenty of questions during the first half a 70-43 blowout victory at Value City Arena on Saturday evening.
“I didn’t think we communicated as well to start the game as I would have liked,” Matta said afterward.
“And we didn’t make enough shots. We are going to have to put the ball in the basket more moving forward the rest of the season.
Coming off a 5-point loss at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Wednesday, Ohio State shot just 30 percent from the floor in the first half and went 5-of-17 behind the arc, but the Buckeyes led 36-22 at the break thanks the emergence of their young sophomore.
After playing just 11 minutes in Ohio State’s 73-68 loss at Duke, LaQuinton Ross played a career-high 29 minutes during a 70-43 win over NKU on Saturday. The 6-8 sophomore led the Buckeyes with a career-high 22 points and eight rebounds as the team improved to 5-1 on the season.
“He had a great practice yesterday and I just felt he was going to have a really good game today,” Matta said.
“He was very efficient and the more he plays the more overall confidence he gains.”
The Buckeye got just four points from preseason All-American Deshaun Thomas in the first half, but the junior forward overcame the Norsemen’s decision to double-team him most of the night.
He scored 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds in 30 minutes before spending the last five minutes of the game on the bench as Ohio State’s backups pulled away for a 27-point victory.
“Against Thomas, I wanted to put six or seven guys on him but they won’t let me do that,” NKU coach Dave Bezold said with a smile.
“Our plan was not to come off Thomas and force him to his right. If he makes a play off you, it shows how great of a player he is and how ready he is to take it to the next level.”
Ohio State’s defense gave up a three on the first possession of the game and it was a back-and-forth contest for the first 10 minutes as the Buckeyes struggled to put the ball in the basket.
Point guard Aaron Craft continued his offensive struggles from the end of the Duke game, at least shooting the ball, but he returned to his usual form on the defensive end. The reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year had three steals and forced at least six or seven turnovers as the Buckeyes held NKU to 27 percent shooting for the game.
“It had a lot to do with our defensive concepts,” sophomore Sam Thompson said.
“When all five of us are playing together we are a tough team to score on. They finished with 43 points and that’s something we have to be proud of.”
Ohio State’s backcourt of Craft, Lenzelle Smith and Shannon Scott was a combined 5-of-23 from the floor, so the Buckeyes needed a big night from Ross. They also got 10 points and four rebounds from Thompson, meaning 46 of their 70 points came from three players – Thompson, Ross and Thomas.
The game was a two-point game at 9-7 with 13:26 to play in the first half, but the Buckeyes went on a 22-9 run to take 31-16 lead with under four minutes to play in the first half.
The rebounding numbers were close, 43-41 Ohio State, but the Buckeyes blocked five shots and forced the Norsemen into 20 turnovers as they outscored Northern Kentucky 34-21 in the second half.
Ohio State was much better after the break, shooting 46 percent from the floor, and the Buckeyes made 17 of their 20 free throws to put the game on ice. They now have a week off before returning to the court next Saturday for a game against Long Beach State (noon ET, Big Ten Network).
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