Following a record 40-point performance from freshman Jared Sullinger in its last outing, No. 2-ranked Ohio State (8-0) featured a much more balanced attack Sunday afternoon, easily handling Western Carolina (4-8), 85-60.
On a snowy Columbus day, OSU traveled just down the street from the Schottenstein Center to historic St. John Arena, the Buckeyes’ former home, and got off to a hot start on both ends of the court.
“I thought today we came out and had a little more intensity to our defense,” said OSU coach Thad Matta. “Offensively, especially in the first half, we did a good job of sharing the ball. … I was pretty pleased with how guys played.”
The Buckeyes garnered double-digit scoring from five players, including 17 from Sullinger, as the team shot 51.9 percent from the floor.
OSU stormed out of the locker room, putting together an 18-4 run in the game’s first nine minutes. The Buckeyes would not relinquish their double-digit lead the rest of the afternoon.
“I felt like a little bit early in the game we almost gave them too much respect,” said WCU coach Larry Hunter. “They came out and jumped right on us to their credit.”
Paced by 12 first-half points from Sullinger and nine from junior guard William Buford, the Buckeyes took a 42-25 lead going into halftime.
Defensively, OSU was just as dominant in the contest’s first stanza. The Buckeyes’ defense forced 14 first-half Catamount turnovers, which led to 14 OSU points.
“Coach Matta said we needed to let them know we’re there on defense and try to push the turnovers,” Sullinger said. “The whole practice, the last couple practices have been about toughness, and I think we showed that today.”
OSU opened the second half with another big run, this time an 18-8 surge, extending its lead to 27 points.
Despite the Buckeyes’ overall dominance, the Catamounts held a distinct advantage over OSU on the glass as they outrebounded it 39-26.
“We didn’t rebound at all tonight,” Sullinger said. “They were a real scrappy team and they’re going to be a good team by the end of the year and they outrebounded us just because they wanted it more.”
Still, Matta said he was content with his team’s effort overall. The Buckeye coach was able to get all 11 of his available players on the court.
“I think the more we can build our bench, the better off we will be,” Matta said.
Buford, Deshaun Thomas and Dallas Lauderdale each contributed 13 points apiece, and Jon Diebler added another 10 of his own to OSU’s balanced scoring.
After completing final exams Dec. 9, the Buckeyes will be out of class until Jan. 3. Sullinger said this period of time is of the utmost importance for the team.
“Right now this is where players are made,” he said. “You can relax and just go clubbing and have a good time, or you can be in the gym, getting better and hitting the weights hard.
“We really have a tough basketball team and I think we are going to be mentally tough to handle the obstacles that are going to come our way.”
The Buckeyes will return to action Dec. 15 as they welcome Florida Gulf Coast University to the Schottenstein Center for a 6:30 p.m. tipoff.