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Ohio State fends off sluggish start, beats Delaware, 76-64

Ohio State’s non-conference schedule is nearing completion, and as the team inches closer to the beginning of Big Ten play, things aren’t quite perfect in Columbus despite notching its 11th straight win to open the season.

The No. 3 Buckeyes (11-0, 0-0) shook off a sluggish start to beat Delaware (5-6, 0-0), 76-64, Wednesday at the Schottenstein Center.

OSU shot just 3-11 from the field in the first four minutes of action against the Blue Hens, not earning its first lead until the 13:07 mark in the first half.

“We missed some lay ups early, and I think that affected us a little bit,” senior guard Aaron Craft said after the win. “Sometimes you gotta find a way to win when you’re not able to put the ball in the bucket.”

The Blue Hens came into the game averaging 83.0 points per game, but despite holding them to nearly 20 points below their season average, Craft said OSU was less than pleased with the way they played on that side of the ball.

“We weren’t really connected on defense today, and that’s on us,” Craft said.

A back-and-forth affair continued until OSU took the lead for good with 3:15 remaining in the first half. The Buckeyes used a 12-0 run before the halftime buzzer sounded to take a 37-26 lead into the break.

“Things weren’t going well for us early, and I thought we once again finished the first half on a strong note,” OSU coach Thad Matta said after the game. “That was definitely, probably the difference in the game for us in terms of coming out, and getting an 11-point lead at halftime there was big.”

The lead swelled to 16 at one point in the second half, but the Blue Hens cut it to eight with 1:48 to play before a combined eight straight points by senior guards Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Craft helped close out the game.

“That’s quite honestly what I want Ohio State seniors to play like. I think from a standpoint of what they did, the plays that they made (down the stretch) were big-time plays,” Matta said.

Delaware’s leading scorer, senior guard Devon Saddler, finished with 17 points off the bench, six below his average. Blue Hens coach Monté Ross said he was proud of the way his team came out and almost pulled the upset.

“I thought that our guys stood toe to toe, for the most part, with what I’m going to call the best team in the country,” Ross said after the game. “I’m going to say that, I’m going to keep saying that because we played them and I hope they win every game the rest of the way.”

OSU had four players score in double figures, led by junior forward LaQuinton Ross with 19. The Buckeyes shot just 40.7 percent from the field, a dip from the 52.7 percent clip they held in their last three victories.

Matta said he was unable to really say why his team was flat against Delaware Wednesday, but was happy to come away with a victory.

“Sometimes you have some games where it’s not clicking the way you want it to,” Matta said. “I think the difference between the good teams and great teams is great teams can figure it out.”

“We had practiced very well leading into this game, and we came out and we just weren’t as sharp as we needed to be on both ends of the floor,” Matta said.

OSU is set to travel to New York Saturday to take on Notre Dame (8-3, 0-0) in its last game of the Gotham Classic. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

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