Solid defense continued to be the story for the No. 5 Ohio State Buckeyes (8-0, 0-0) as they defeated the Central Connecticut State Blue Devils (2-6, 0-0), 74-56.
Junior forward LaQuinton Ross was OSU’s leading scorer for the second straight game, after posting a career-best 23 points while shooting 9-13 from the field. Senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. added 17 points of his own.
Ross had a four-game stretch earlier in the season in which he shot 5-30 dating back to the team’s 79-69 win against Ohio Nov. 12. After the win, he said it was his perseverance that allowed him to again find his shooting stroke.
“I think it was basically just me keeping my head in it and not getting down on myself too much, and finally seeing a couple go through and then just building off that,” Ross said.
Buckeye coach Thad Matta said though he was disappointed in the way his team played throughout parts of the game, he was thankful to earn the win.
“We have to try and keep that edge about us,” Matta said. “This is one that we got to learn from it but by the same token, you gotta wash it down the drain in the shower. We must be a better basketball team on Wednesday than we were today and for all the right reasons of us trying to be the team we want to be.”
Defensive stops and a block by junior center Amir Williams helped OSU jump out to a quick 14 point lead. The lead diminished just as quickly however, as a 9-2 run by the Blue Devils made the score 24-17 with 8:07 left in the half. The Buckeyes held a 38-29 lead at the break.
Ross said after the game he could tell Matta was upset at halftime.
“It was a little bit of sarcasm and anger at the same, he tried to keep cool … because he feels like some of the mistakes we’re making, we shouldn’t have made,” Ross said. “I know for a fact that he was upset and I think the whole team thought we had to play our way out of it, especially with us being an older group of guys.”
Up by eight with 13:46 left, OSU used a four minute 10-0 scoring run, led by Ross, to obtain an 18 point lead over the Blue Devils. CCSU was able to cut the lead to 13, but after an inbounds dunk by junior forward Sam Thompson and a 3-pointer by Smith Jr., the Buckeyes were finally able to pull away.
Senior point guard Aaron Craft finished the game with seven points, two assists and one steal, while junior guard Shannon Scott finished with seven points, four assists and three steals.
OSU scored 26 points off 19 Blue Devil turnovers, yet CCSU kept the game close by out-rebounding the Buckeyes 29-28.
Smith Jr. said CCSU’s play wasn’t necessarily the reason the Buckeyes found it hard to pull away, but his own teams playing level.
“I just feel like we didn’t do some things well that we normally do, we just didn’t play our game today and it made the game a lot harder than it should have been,” Smith Jr. said. “Just from the jump ball our minds wasn’t ready to play, guys were penetrating but not kicking out so guys trying to get shots in the lane, we gotta a lot of bad shots going up and then we allowed that to transfer over to our defense and we hang our hat on defense the whole year.”