COLUMBUS, Ohio - Thursday night's game was at a different venue with the backdrop shifting to Nationwide Arena but the result ended up being one that Buckeye fans have grown accustomed to seeing. William Buford bounced back after a reported stinger earlier in the week to score 18 points while DeShaun Thomas had 15 as the Ohio State (12-1) closed out the non-conference schedule with a dominating 69-40 win over Miami-Ohio (3-7).
Jared Sullinger had 11 points and six rebounds and Aaron Craft made his usual magic happen with eight assists and a pair of steals. What doesn't show up in the scorebook however is how Craft dives on the court and made a sensational play where he dove into the Ohio State dance team to save a ball that ended up in a transition bucket.
"If everyone had the same intensity that Aaron Craft has on defense we would be a tremendous basketball team." Buford said.
The Buckeyes stormed out of the gates and scored 11 points before the first media timeout and forced Miami head coach, Charlie Coles, to call a timeout. But Ohio State could only muster 15 more points in the remaining 15:45 to take a 26-17 lead to the halftime locker room.
"I think the biggest thing we wanted to do was get back to playing our style of basketball," Craft said. "We knew they were going to come in and try and slow it down and they were successful doing that in the first half and that's not what we wanted to do in the second half. The best way to make the tempo get faster is increasing defensive pressure, doing whatever we can and we were able to do that."
The RedHawks were led by Julian Mavunga who had half of Miami's points with 20 points and ten rebounds. Brian Sullivan, an Upper Arlington freshman, scored eight points off the bench. No other RedHawk scorer had more than four points.
"(Mavunga's) a good player and he is from Indiana and he is a scorer," Thomas said with a wry smile being from Indiana himself. "It was a good match-up for me, but we came out with the (win) as a team."
Matta's team responded in the second half and shot 50-percent the rest of the way and stretched the lead out to as many as 31 points. The Bucks were able to clear the bench and provided several highlights including an alley-oop to J.D. Weatherspoon that brought down the house of more than 17-thousand fans and the debut of LaQuinton Ross.
27 seconds after checking in for his career debut Ross buried his first shot attempt, a three pointer from the left wing. The freshman forward joined the team December 9th after sitting out the first quarter due to an academic mix-up with the NCAA Clearinghouse. Fans had been clamoring for the former 4-star prospect to get into the game and their wishes were rewarded. But don't expect to see Ross getting too many minutes until he is ready.
"Q is not ready at that level yet," Matta said. "Yesterday in practice I told him, he was catching and trying to drive everything and I told him he could shoot the basketball and just get your feet set. It has got to be a relief for him to knock that first one down. We have just got to bring him along. I looked out there at one point, they were taking the ball out of bounds and I was like, 'He has no idea what he is doing right now,' those are just things you forget because you have been working on them so for long but he hasn't been there."
Matta and Miami coach Charlie Coles have a long history with each other and are good friends. Matta has always been complimentary of Coles in the past and the feelings are mutual between the two.
"I just think that Thad Matta is just one of the smartest coaches I have ever seen," Coles said. "He gets to the point of what he wants out of his team."
After the game RedHawks head coach spent extra time talking with Craft during the team handshake and the very likable head coach had plenty of good things to say after the game.
"They are just good," Coles said. "And (Aaron) Craft... I have had some very good players but I have never had one of those guys. I don't have much longer coaching and I just feel cheated, I feel so cheated."
Sullinger played for 24 minutes in the game and Matta said that he considered getting the big sophomore back into the game for a little bit more action but decided with the pace of the game to rest his big man. Big Ten play starts next week and Matta knows that he has to get his preseason All-American back into the swing of things.
"We have got to get Jared in shape," Matta said. "We have to get Jared back to where to who Jared is and those types of things. I think the other guys have gotten better but we have got to get our flow back and get him rolling again. I don't think he is anywhere near where he was or where he is going to be here in a week or so."
Ohio State only lost once in the non-conference schedule and is riding a four game winning streak into league play. The Buckeyes will get to break for the Holidays on the 23rd and will report back to campus on Christmas night to get ready for a December 28th game against Northwestern.
"Going to the Big Ten at 12-1, I think that is pretty good but the preseason is over with now," Buford said. "We just have to worry about Northwestern right now."
The Bucks should hold onto their No. 2 ranking through the holiday weekend but according to one coach with firsthand knowledge, the Bucks may need to be ranked higher.
"We just played the best team in the country," Coles said.