CLEVELAND — One game down, five to go.
By pummeling Texas-San Antonio (20-14), 75-46, in its first game of the NCAA Tournament on Friday, the Ohio State men’s basketball team is one step closer to accomplishing part three of its self-proclaimed three-part mission.
The Buckeyes (33-2) already have crossed a Big Ten regular-season and conference tournament crown off their list. Cutting down the nets in Houston as national champions is all that’s left.
OSU used a balanced effort to take a step in that direction against the Roadrunners. Four players scored in double figures for the Buckeyes, with junior guard William Buford leading the way with 18. Buford notched 15 of his points in the first half.
“My teammates, they were giving me the ball, and shots were open,” Buford said. “So I was just taking good shots and I was able to knock them down.”
UTSA, the Southland Conference Tournament champion, kept the game close early by scoring on its first four possessions. The game was tied, 9-9, with just more than 13 minutes remaining in the first half, before the Buckeyes began to put the Roadrunners away. OSU closed the half on a 28-12 scoring run to take a 16-point lead into the locker room.
They attributed the slow start to poor execution.
“Like I said, once we got through the first timeout, we were down,” OSU coach Thad Matta said. “I thought our guys did a good job of responding and really keeping the focus.”
The Roadrunners attempted to slow down the Buckeyes, often waiting until the shot clock was below 15 seconds to initiate their offense. That was not the style of play the Buckeyes expected.
“We were pretty surprised. I think with the film that we watched in the short period of time that we had, we didn’t really see that much,” senior guard Jon Diebler said. “But, again, we have to be ready for whatever … way teams will play against us. I think for the first four or five minutes we weren’t, but after that we kind of picked it up.”
The Buckeyes connected on 6-of-10 3-pointers in the first half and continued the hot shooting after intermission. The team finished 12-for-24 from distance.
The Buckeyes had too many weapons for the Roadrunners to deal with. Senior guard Jon Diebler contributed 14 points on 4-for-8 shooting from behind the arc, while freshman forward Jared Sullinger added 11 points. In total, eight OSU players scored.
Only one UTSA player, senior guard Devin Gibson, scored in double figures. Gibson tallied more than half his team’s points with a game-high 24.
“I think we just need to do a better job on the team defense on Gibson,” Diebler said. “I think we left Aaron (Craft) and Will out to dry a little bit.”
OSU was able to feed off a crowd consisting mostly of Buckeye fans.
“It was awesome,” freshman point guard Aaron Craft said. “If you closed your eyes and listened to the cheers it sounded like we were playing in Columbus.”
As OSU continued to add to its lead in the second half, Matta was able to empty his bench slowly. Sullinger was the first to make his exit, leaving the game for the first time with 12:12 on the clock, and not returning. Fifth-year senior forward David Lighty, Buford and Diebler were soon to follow, as forward Deshaun Thomas and guards Jordan Sibert and Lenzelle Smith Jr., all freshmen, closed out the game.
Sibert indicated his excitement at playing and scoring in his first tournament game.
“It was great. That environment was crazy,” he said. “It was really good. My teammates, they are all supportive whenever we get out there.”
Senior walk-on guard Eddie Days entered the game with 1:27 remaining, the 10th Buckeye to log minutes on the evening.
The Buckeyes forced the Roadrunners into 13 turnovers and held UTSA to just 34 percent shooting on the evening. OSU also assisted on 26 of its 29 field goals and shot 55.8 percent from the floor.
OSU held its opponent under 50 points for the eighth time this season and first time since a Jan. 19 contest with Iowa.
OSU next will play George Mason on Sunday in Cleveland. The Patriots beat Villanova, 61-57, on Friday to advance to the tournament’s round of 32.