From the moment junior forward Kaleb Wesson led Ohio State onto the floor at St. John Arena, the Buckeyes were locked in mentally, prepared to fight Kent State inside and on the boards.
Balancing the paint and perimeter, No. 10 Ohio State (6-0) pulled away from the Golden Flashes (5-1), who hung with the Buckeyes for 30 minutes before fading to lose 71-52 down the stretch.
“We knew, coming into this game, they were really aggressive on boards, driving, and like I said before, they weren’t going to quit,” sophomore guard Duane Washington said. “With teams like that you have to match the energy, you have to match the moods from the start, and it went back and forth.”
Wesson finished with a season-high 17 points, Washington trailing close behind with 16 and three assists.
Coming out of a media timeout, the Buckeyes went into a zone defense, giving Kent State junior guard Antonio Williams a wide-open corner 3. Against man defense on the next possession, Williams knifed inside, earning two free-throws, and tied the game at 48.
Ohio State stiffened defensively, holding Kent State scoreless for the next 6:30. The Buckeyes slashed to the rim, chiseling away on the glass, and getting to the line.
“We’re fighters. They cut the lead I think to four, and we could have got wild and came down just chucking up shots, trying to make hero plays. But we stayed together and we just took it one possession at a time,” sophomore guard Luther Muhammad said. “Defense first and offense. That just led us to the win.”
With 4:30 left, Carton grabbed a steal, threaded it up the court to a streaking Washington and finished a return alley-oop pass to cap a Buckeye fast break.
“He just took off,” Washington said. “He got in front of me somehow, and I was up here, and it was crazy. It was hype, I was super hype, but we couldn’t show it because we had to get back on defense.”
From that point on, the Buckeyes were firmly in control.
By dominating the offensive glass and finishing plays at the free-throw stripe, the Buckeyes put the game away with a 23-4 run to close out a scrappy Kent State team that wouldn’t quit.
In the first half, the Buckeyes shot 56 percent from beyond the arc, with Washington leading the way.
Washington led the way for Ohio State, knocking down two 3-pointers in the first half as Kent State doubled Wesson in the post. Carton, Muhammad and Wesson each added a 3-pointer of their own, as Ohio State shot 56 percent from behind the line in the opening 20 minutes.
The Buckeyes pounded the glass, securing 17 of their 41 rebounds in the opening half to spark the fast break.
After falling behind to open the game, Ohio State sprinted to the locker room ahead by 12, behind a 20-8 run to close the half.
Riding the momentum to open the second half, Wesson grabbed a Muhammad miss and slammed it home. On the next offensive possession, Wesson found Muhammad deep in the right corner for a triple that stretched the lead to 17.
Kent State was not done, however; junior forward Danny Pippen knocked down three 3s to keep the game close, and the Flash stormed back with a 15-8 run to close the gap to four.
“We just tell each other that we need to be prepared for the moment when it comes,” Washington said. “I think our approach has been really really good. We’re making sure we get better every day. We took a serious approach going into this year and we’re doing really well.”
Ohio State had four players score in the double-digits, while all but two of Kent State’s ensemble failed to reach that tier.
The Buckeyes slashed to the rim frequently, drawing fouls en route to earning 30 free throw attempts. Kent State was stymied in the paint, unable to finish and shooting only 4-for-7 from the charity stripe.
“I think our players, we got critical stops when we needed to, stops and first-time rebounds,” Holtmann said. “I think that was the difference in that stretch and getting to the free-throw line like we did.”
Ohio State looks to stay unbeaten as they take on Morgan State at the Schottenstein Center on Friday at 9 p.m.