Free Throws Carry Buckeyes Past Bobcats
By Rob Ogden
Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft shot 2-for-6 from the field and still scored a team-high 18 points. It was that kind of night at Value City Arena.
Ohio State shot 51 free throws, making a school-record 38, and defeated Ohio 79-69 in front of a mixed crowd in Columbus.
Craft attempted a career-high 18 free throws and made 14 to pad an otherwise pedestrian offensive stat line.
"Coming into this year, we had an understanding that that's how the games are gonna be called," Craft said. "If they're gonna call it like that, we're gonna have to take advantage."
And take advantage the Buckeyes did. As a team, Ohio State attempted seven more free throws than it did field goals.
The 38 points from the line and a suffocating first-half defense were enough for the Buckeyes to hold off a furious comeback by the Bobcats late in the second half.
After leading by as many as 17 points in the first half, Ohio State's lead was cut to five with four minutes remaining.
The Bobcats' comeback was led by Columbus natives Stevie Taylor and Nick Kellogg, who each scored 21 points in front of the hometown crowd.
Those two were also about the only Ohio players who weren't in foul trouble. Five Bobcats fouled out of the game, and another finished with four fouls.
For the second-consecutive game, Ohio State coach Thad Matta got the offensive balance he said the Buckeyes need.
Four players finished in double figures while two others finished with nine and eight points, respectively.
Junior center Amir Williams scored a career-high 14 points and had 10 rebounds for his first-career double-double.
"I'm just going out there any playing with a lot more energy," said WIlliams, who averaged just 3.5 points a year ago. "The game is coming a lot easier now."
But it wasn't all easy for the Buckeyes, who shot just 35 percent from the field in the second half.
Ohio State made only 5-of-18 3-point attempts and for the second time this season had a defensive letdown in the second half.
Ohio finished with 34 points in the paint, many of which came from Taylor and Kellogg, who were routinely able to get to the rim with ease.
Matta said at one point, his guys looked lost.
"Hopefully we can learn from a close game like this," he said. "We had a little dazed look in our eyes for a stretch. Maybe it was a little bit too easy early on."
Senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. shot 1-for-5 from the field, but managed to finish with nine points. He called the game "humbling."
"It was nice to have that challenge," he said. "It's gonna keep us on our toes."
Ohio State flustered the Bobcats in the opening minutes of the game and jumped out to a 9-0 lead behind the strength of a stifling defense and a few easy buckets.
Ohio didn't get on the board until more than five-and-a-half minutes of play into the game.
Despite getting off to the poor start, coach Jim Christian said he doesn't think his team was intimidated.
"It's hard when shots aren't falling early, but even when we started off poor, I knew we would fight," he said.
Christian said much of his team's early struggles stemmed from Ohio State's permitter defense, which he called the best in the country.
It wasn't until Kellogg and Taylor started to hit some shots that the Bobcats were able to play with more confidence.
"For the most part, we're just out there trying to compete," Kellogg said. "We talked about not giving up, just keep fighting, that's what we did. We were just trying to make plays. We took a step in the right direction tonight."
Sam Thomson had 12 points for the Buckeyes off the bench and LaQuinton Ross added 10.
Eight different Buckeyes attempted at least one free throw.
Craft said if nothing else, the game provided a learning experience.
"Having them come back the way they did making big play after big play down the stretch, it made us respond and that's gonna help us later on," he said.
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