Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
Evidently, Ohio State men’s basketball is better suited for the amenities of the modern Schottenstein Center than a decommissioned U.S. Navy aircraft carrier.
The Buckeyes’ first attempt at their 2012-13 season opener, an outdoor game against Marquette on the flight deck of the USS Yorktown, was cancelled due to condensation on the court. Back on dry land in Columbus on Sunday, OSU took the court at the Schottenstein Center and dispatched the University of Albany Great Danes, 82-60.
The Great Danes (1-1) kept it close through most of the first half as senior guard Mike Black scored 14 points in the opening 20 minutes before finishing the game with 20 points. Albany took brief leads several times in the half, but OSU (1-0), a national semifinalist during the 2011-12 season and the Associated Press’ No. 4-ranked team, had too much firepower.
Buckeyes junior guard Aaron Craft christened the new season with the team’s first made basket – a 3-pointer – and finished the game with a team-high 20 points. Craft was 5-of-7 from 3-point range and 6-of-9 overall in the contest. He averaged almost nine points per game last year.
Albany coach Will Brown had high praise for Craft’s performance in the game, saying the player had potential to play professional basketball for a long period of time.
“Craft is going to be a NBA player for the next 10 years,” Brown said. “He’s the best defensive guard in the country.”
AP preseason All-American Deshaun Thomas finished the afternoon with 19 points on 7-of-17 shooting. The junior forward was OSU’s second-leading scorer during OSU’s Final Four run with almost 16 points per game.
For the game, OSU connected on 57 percent of its attempts on 32-of-56 shooting. The Buckeyes split the contest’s 64 rebounds evenly with the Great Danes.
The Great Danes took the lead at 23-22 with 4:46 to go in the first half. From there, OSU rode a wave of momentum into the break, finishing the half on a 17-2 run to take a 39-25 lead. OSU junior guard Lenzelle Smith, Jr., a returning starter from the Buckeyes’ Final Four campaign, capped the offensive surge with a buzzer-beater 3-point bucket.
Smith Jr. and the Buckeyes strutted into the half with complete control.
Thomas said Matta instructed the players to maintain intensity after they fell behind Albany.
“Coach Matta told us to play hard, keep knocking shots down and to not let up,” Thomas said. “Aaron [Craft] and Lenzelle [Smith Jr.] knocked down a couple shots and that’s what he wanted. We kept our intensity high.”
Smith Jr., said he was happy to be in position to close out the half with his 3-pointer, adding that hitting the shot was a “personal swagger thing” for him.
“(Craft) saw me and made a great pass, which helped me to make the shot,” Smith Jr., said. “Guys always want to make that buzzer-beater shot, and you don’t get many of those.”
OSU lead swelled to 25 points midway through the first half. The Great Danes clawed back to within 15 with less than two minutes to play, but victory was in hand for the Buckeyes at that point.
Smith Jr., who finished with 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting, dribbled the ball out as time expired.
OSU will continue regular season play Saturday against Rhode Island in Uncasville, Conn. The game, part of the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off, is scheduled for a 5 p.m. start.
OSU coach Thad Matta, now in his ninth season in Columbus, ran Thomas, Craft, Smith Jr., sophomore forward Sam Thompson and senior forward Evan Ravenel out for the opening tip off. Before Matta began to clear the bench with less than 10 minutes to play in the game, sophomore guard Shannon Scott, sophomore forward LaQuinton Ross and sophomore center Amir Williams each entered the game at least twice. By game’s end, nine players saw time in the contest.
Final Four banner
A banner was unveiled prior to Sunday’s game in honor of the 2011-12 Final Four team. The banner featured the 2012 Final Four logo and was inscribed with “31-8, East Regional Champions.”