COLUMBUS, Ohio - On Tuesday night the Ohio State basketball team proved that it had something in common with the football team and that was getting off to a slow start. The Buckeyes trailed for the first nine-plus minutes of the game to a tenacious Morehead State team before finally starting to put it together en route to a 64-45 win. Jon Diebler led the Buckeyes with 20 points while Kenneth Faried led the way for the Eagles with 15.
The Buckeyes were without William Buford who had been dealing with back spasms since after the game on Saturday and the decision was made early Tuesday that he would not be able to go. David Lighty and freshman DeShaun Thomas helped carry the load for the Buckeyes as the team shot 68-percent in the second half to pull away.
But the first half was another story and Ohio State's 40-percent shooting was a far cry from what the team has been used to in the first three games of the season.
"I felt that we got knocked back on our heels early in the game," Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said. "We weren't as sharp as we needed to be. This was a good lesson for us of we were relying at times with three freshmen out on the floor and I thought those guys did a pretty decent job. Thankfully for us we continued to defend as poorly as we played offensively."
The senior leaders of the team took the blame for the team's slow start and know that it is just not about them when it comes to the team being ready for a game, regardless of whose name is on the front of the jersey.
"We have to make sure every game that everyone is ready to play," Diebler said. "Not only ourselves but even the young guys. That is on us. Morehead State is a good basketball team and they took Florida right down to the wire. They came out and came ready to play and we weren't so we have to give them a lot of credit because they did what they were supposed to."
As a team the Buckeyes had 16 turnovers to go with 17 assists and each half saw the Buckeyes give it away eight times but in the first frame it felt as if the turnovers hurt that much more.
"We were a little lackadaisical with our passes," Diebler said. "Usually we do a pretty good job of taking care of the ball. But you have to give them credit, I think that they really pushed up in their zone up top and used their length but at the same time we work on passing every day at practice and that is really unacceptable for us to turn it over and to keep making the same turnovers over and over again."
The tide of the game changed at the 15:19 mark of the second half when Faried picked up his fourth personal foul and the Buckeyes held a tenuous five point lead. When Faried returned at the 9:58 mark the Buckeyes had extended the lead to 11 points and never really had to look back. But the Buckeyes came away with a lot of respect for the preseason OVC Player of the Year.
"He is really active and he is a good player I would say," Lighty said. "I think we did a pretty good job with him, as much as you could, I thought we could have been a little bit more active on him on the back side. We gave a couple of duck-in dunks that he had."
Ohio State had its own foul trouble to contend with picking up multiple fouls on big men Dallas Lauderdale and Jared Sullinger. Lauderdale was forced to play with two fouls early and when Sullinger picked up his second had to come back in. Shortly after that Lauderdale picked up his third foul of the half and that forced the Buckeyes to go smaller.
Aaron Craft got his first start for the Buckeyes and had a mixed night with six assists but five turnovers. Craft was one of three Buckeyes who went 40 minutes in the game (Lighty and Diebler) and the coaching staff knows that there will be ways to work with Craft on some of his turnovers and that they should be something that a little film work and extra practice can correct.
"He had some turnovers that I know he can get corrected," Matta said but was he trying to do too much? "I think he just had a couple of wrong reads and those are things that we can show him and when he sees it on tape I think next time he will be a lot better with it."
Morehead State drops to 2-3 on the season but to its credit two of the three losses were to ranked teams (Ohio State and Florida) and the game against the Gators was decided by six points. Faried put up another double-double in that game with 20 points and 18 rebounds. It looks like the Eagles will be a team to contend with in the Ohio Valley Conference and could be a tough out in the NCAA Tournament if they reach it.
But Morehead State coach Donnie Tyndall left the game with high praise for the Buckeyes and what they might be capable of if things go right this season.
"There really is not a weakness that I see in that team this early in the year," Tyndall said. "I told coach Matta before the game that we played Kentucky about this time a year ago and right now Ohio State is a better team than Kentucky was a that time. I feel like Ohio State is a team that, knock on wood they stay healthy, will have an opportunity to play for a National Championship."
The Buckeyes will not be able to go home for the holidays and will have dinner with Matta on Thursday afternoon but there will be plenty of work between now and then with the Miami (Ohio) RedHawks coming to down on Friday for an in-state battle. The coaches will have a lot of work with this team on many levels and if a couple of seasons ago is any indication, dinner could be served late if practice does not meet the stringent standards of coach Matta.
"Hopefully we have a better practice than a couple of years ago where I think my wife left 19 voicemails saying, 'where are you, where are you,' but we weren't getting practice the way we wanted for we stayed (for more practice) and were a couple of hour late for dinner," Matta said. "Our veteran players will remember that."