Kelly Roderick / Lantern photographer
The Ohio State men’s basketball team was off and running Saturday, getting out in transition whenever it could. Eventually, the Buckeyes ran away with the game too.
The No. 7-ranked Buckeyes (8-1) turned aggressive team defense into easy transition scores against UNC Asheville (3-7), defeating the Bulldogs, 90-72, at the Schottenstein Center.
“We watched film on (Asheville) over the past couple days, and we noticed that they didn’t stop the ball particularly well,” said sophomore forward Sam Thompson, who led OSU in scoring with a career-high 18 points. “We knew that if we could get stops we could get up the floor. We definitely tried to capitalize on that.”
OSU dashed and darted for 26 points in transition and 25 points off of turnovers. Many of the Buckeyes’ fast breaks ended with easy buckets in the paint, where OSU enjoyed a 50-28 advantage against the Bulldogs.
OSU not only seemed to be fast, but also efficient. Led by its two point guards, junior Aaron Craft and sophomore Shannon Scott, the Buckeyes dished a out season-high 25 assists. In 46 minutes of play, Craft and Scott combined for 17 assists and just one turnover.
“They found the right guys,” said OSU coach Thad Matta. “They kept it simple and guys were finishing strong. That was definitely good basketball for us.”
Matta said he is unsure how much the Buckeyes will look to push the tempo going forward, especially when they reach Big Ten play. The players, however, think this style of offense suits OSU’s strengths.
“I really like this style and I think that it fits well for this team,” said junior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr., who scored 17 points on 7-10 shooting. “We have a lot of athletes on this team. Just getting out and going allows us to be on the top of our game.”
When Craft and Scott are on the floor, OSU seems to have two ball handlers that can initiate a fast break and find open players on the run. Many times that player is Thompson, an elite athlete that seems to throw down a highlight-worthy dunk in every game.
On Saturday, he chose to finish with a windmill slam off a full-court outlet pass from junior forward Deshaun Thomas.
“I just wanted to do something to get some energy in the gym, pick the guys up, pick the crowd up,” Thompson said of the dunk, which sparked an eruption of applause in the Schott.
“He’s always a threat in transition just in the terms of what he’s capable of doing,” said Matta of Thompson. “The speed that he has gets him down the floor as quick as anyone I’ve seen.”
Matta might be hesitant to use a similar up-tempo attack in the future because it seemed to have an adverse effect on the team’s defense at times.
Asheville shot 51.9 percent from the floor in the first half, and Bulldogs sophomore guard Keith Hornsby scored a career-high 26 points.
“That can’t happen,” Matta said. “We’ve got to stick to our principles defensively.”
Hornsby’s father is Grammy award-winning artist Bruce Hornsby, and Matta said he and the elder Hornsby exchanged text messages prior to Saturday’s game.
“The funny thing is we were talking last night, texting, and he said ‘please let my son score,'” Matta said. “I think we did a very, very good job of that.”
OSU hosts Winthrop on Tuesday, the team’s last test before the showdown with No. 9 Kansas next Saturday. Opening tip against Winthrop is scheduled for 7 p.m.