COLUMBUS, Ohio - The No. 2 Ohio State basketball team spread the wealth on Sunday afternoon with five players scoring double figures led by freshman Jared Sullinger as Ohio State went back to its roots at St. John Arena and easily handled Western Carolina 85-60 to improve to 8-0.
Western Carolina was led by Mike Williams and his 22 points but had two starters (Richie Gordon and Keaton Cole) held scoreless and were careless with the ball turning it over 14 times in the first half and 20 on the afternoon.
The Buckeyes came back from a physically sluggish game mid-week against IUPUI to show a toughness that Matta had been looking for out of the No. 2 ranked team in the nation.
"Last halftime against IUPUI coach Matta yelled at us and told us that we are not tough enough so the whole practice we have been doing drills that really show where your heart is at and a lot of people responded," Sullinger said.
The one deceiving stat on the score sheet is the fact that Ohio State was out-rebounded 39-26. Part of that can be attributed to limited touches by Western Carolina but nobody on the team was going to use that as a cop out and rather turned that inward on the team's execution.
"We didn't rebound at all tonight," Sullinger said. "They are a real scrappy team and they are going to be a good team by the end of the year. They just outrebounded us because they wanted it more."
Matta was able to get significant minutes for Thomas, Aaron Craft and Jordan Sibert off of the bench. While Thomas and Craft have been accustomed to getting more minutes this was a chance for Sibert to see extra minutes in the first half. Matta told Sibert to be ready to go in at the 13:00 minute mark of the first half and he did.
"I think (earlier in the season) I was thinking a lot and now I am just letting it go and just playing hard." Sibert said.
J.D. Weatherspoon made the most of his nine minutes with seven points and three rebounds. During the IUPUI game the Buckeyes shortened the bench but the Buckeyes are hoping that as the season goes on that they will be able to work more people into the rotation and keep fresh for the long run that the season will potentially turn into.
"I know you all don't see the talent that Jordan, Lenzelle Smith Jr. and J.D. all the guys on the bench have," Sullinger said. "A lot of us see it in practice and these guys really can play. As the season goes on if they get that chance it is going to be something special."
WCU head coach Larry Hunter knows the Buckeyes well after having stops as the head coach at Marietta College, Wittenberg University and most notable Ohio University where he spent 12 seasons. He has seen the young Buckeyes out on the recruiting trail and knew that Sunday would be a tough test for his team.
"What I saw on videotape and watching several games was verified in person," Hunter said. "I really like Thad's team at Ohio State. They are a very good passing team and have really good inside presence and you can't help away from perimeter people too far."
The tempo of the game was fast and this was one of the first opportunities of the year for the Buckeyes to run up and down the floor. That style of play is one that Matta likes and one that excites recruits when they look at the Ohio State program. Sunday's game could be used as a 'blueprint' when it comes to how Matta would like to see the offense executed.
"Today I thought we came out and had a little more intensity to our defense and the biggest thing was trying to get our guys to understand that we had to extend and push up a little bit, "Matta said." I thought were a little bit more aware off the ball."
The Buckeyes have been battling the seasons with several players having issues with colds or stomach viruses. Lauderdale was sick toward the end of the week and Sullinger was obviously fatigued on Sunday and spent a good chunk of time on the bench.
"After Thursday's game I thought I caught a cold and then there was a stomach virus going around so I have got a little bit of both right now," Sullinger said.
Ohio State can now focus on basketball only until the start of the New Year with final exams done and the Winter quarter several weeks away. With six freshmen on the squad is this team prepared for dealing with a prolonged absence from the classroom when it comes to time management?
"This is where players are made," Sullinger said. "You can either relax and just go clubbing or just have a good time. Or you can be in the gym getting better and hitting the weights hard. It is really up to us. I think with this basketball team that we have and the mindset of our veterans and coach Matta and even the six freshmen, we really have a tough basketball team. I think we are going to mentally tough to handle obstacles that are going to come our way."
Sunday's weather kept attendance down at St. John Arena but even half full the crowd was into the game at Ohio State basketball's old home and that was something that the players picked up on.
"I love it," Sullinger said. "It is loud and it is way smaller than (the Schott). St. John has a lot of history here and I was just happy to be a part of it."
Sullinger joked about the snow outside and wanted to make sure that everyone was careful on their way home.
"If there wasn't a snow blizzard I honestly believed it was going to be a packed game," Sullinger said. "With the fans that came out tonight we were lucky enough for them to be here and I hope they get home safely."
The Bucks are back in action on Wednesday at Value City Arena against Florida Gulf Coast at 6:30 pm local time.