Cody Cousino / Photo editor
The arena was full and the stars were out for the No. 2 Ohio State men’s basketball game Tuesday against No. 3 Duke. All the Buckeyes needed to cap the memorable night was a win, and they got it.
The sophomore trio of forward Jared Sullinger, forward Deshaun Thomas and guard Aaron Craft combined for 56 points for the Buckeyes and senior guard William Buford added 20 points of his own to help OSU (7-0) cruise to an 85-63 win against the Blue Devils (7-1) at the Schottenstein Center.
“I thought Ohio State played a great game against us,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the game. “They played with great verve and, obviously, were most deserving of the win. I’ve had my butt kicked before, and we’ve kicked some butt. Tonight, my butt is sore.”
OSU coach Thad Matta said he was curious to see how his young team would perform on a big stage against Duke, and was pleased with the outcome.
“I think this team… is still so young. There’s a lot of uncertainty going into a game like tonight. I was kind of excited just to see how we played,” Matta said. “The guys really played to their strengths tonight, which is huge for this team.”
With former OSU players Evan Turner, Scoonie Penn, Michael Conley, Jr., Greg Oden and Daequan Cook looking on, the Buckeyes jumped to an 11-0 lead just more than four minutes into the game. Buford scored four points and Craft scored five points to key the early lead.
“It’s not a good thing,” Krzyzewski said of the Blue Devils’ early deficit.
Craft, who notched 17 points and eight assists in the game, said the team knew it had to come out ready to play regardless of Duke’s reputation.
“Any time you play a big time program like that, you have to come out ready,” Craft said. “Our guys did that today.”
With the Buckeyes leading, 13-2, Duke went on a 12-3 run to narrow its deficit to 16-15.
Blue Devils freshman guard Austin Rivers, son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, provided six points on 2-of-4 shooting and an assist to help cut the OSU lead with 11:24 remaining in the first half. Rivers finished with a team-high 22 points and three assists.
Sullinger, who finished the game with 21 points, helped spur a second offensive spurt, which allowed the Buckeyes to widen their lead to 34-21 with just more than 6:00 remaining in the half. Duke was just 9-of-20 from the floor at that point in the game.
During a stoppage in play with 3:45 to play in the half and OSU up 38-26, Krzyzewski, the all-time wins leader in NCAA history, stood on the floor and stared down the court at a referee. Krzyzewski stomped his feet as he was ordered back to the Blue Devils’ bench area.
Krzyzewski’s first-half frustrations didn’t end there.
Thomas beat the half-time buzzer with a floater to send the Buckeyes into half with a 47-29 lead. Thomas finished the half with a game-high 13 points in the opening stanza.
The Buckeyes kept coming when play resumed in the second half as Lebron James and Dwayne Wade of the Miami Heat and Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets looked on from court side seats beneath the basket.
Thomas blew a kiss to the crowd and held up three fingers after nailing a 3-pointer from the corner to extend OSU’s advantage to 50-30 early in the second half.
Then, with 14:53 to play, Craft banked a 3-pointer off the backboard to extend OSU’s lead to a game-high 24 points at 58-34. Craft smiled and shrugged his shoulders and he trotted back on defense.
Duke fought to keep the game from getting out of hand as the teams approached the midway point of the second half, but the Blue Devils offense couldn’t keep up with OSU.
The Blue Devils’ 3-of-15 shooting from behind the arc didn’t do them any favors. OSU also out-rebounded Duke, 33-25, in the game, and scored 15 second-chance points to Duke’s nine.
With 2:58 to play in the game, sophomore guard Lenzelle Smith, Jr., hauled in a rebound before contacting a Duke player in mid-air and landing squarely on his elbow and tailbone. Smith, remained on the ground for several minutes, left the court without assistance, but did not return to the game.
“(Smith) is in good shape,” Matta said. “He got the wind knocked out of him, but I think he’s going to be in good shape. He was fine after the game.”
A sellout crowd of 18,809 still had plenty of reason to cheer, though. Fans rose to their feet as Craft and Sullinger were lifted from the game with just more than two minutes to play. The Buckeyes then drained the game clock in the closing moments to clinch a 22-point win.
“Buckeye Nation was loud,” Sullinger said. “We loved it. This basketball team is tough. We were tough today.”
After the game, Turner, a Naismith College Player of the Year award winner for OSU during the 2009-10 season, said that the Buckeyes rose to the expectations against the Blue Devils.
“(OSU) is unreal this year,” Turner said. “I think that’s the standard here. I’m glad the fans are supporting and (OSU) isn’t just a football school.”
OSU will finish its eight-game home stand Saturday against Texas-Pan American at noon.