Ohio State’s 19-point, 9-for-29 first half shooting performance against Cincinnati indicated the Buckeyes have some early season rust to shake off.
The No. 18 Buckeyes (2-0) doubled that first half scoring total in their 76-56 win during an improved performance against UMass-Lowell (1-2) Sunday, but Ohio State was far from midseason form early.
“At first I think we were playing a little too ahead of ourselves, not really following the game plan that coach put in for us,” freshman guard D.J. Carton said.
Shooting 50 percent from the field in the opening 20 minutes, Ohio State took a 38-25 lead into halftime, and it would have been a wider margin if not for six turnovers and eight missed free throws.
Ohio State started 0-for-7 from the line, a drought that caused the home crowd to give junior forward Kaleb Wesson a rousing ovation when he hit the first Buckeye free throws of the game.
Wesson missed his first two 3-point attempts and two free throws, but finished the first half with 11 points and 10 doubles to capture his second double-double in as many games. He’d finish with 13 points and 13 boards.
The 6-foot-9 forward had five double-doubles in all of 2018-19.
“The way he’s playing the game right now is tremendous,” Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said. “When you’re as talented as he is and used to scoring the ball, guys can get thirsty, they can force things, they can play out of character. He’s mature enough to understand that’s not the right way to play.”
Down 0-6 in the first few minutes, a Wesson 3-pointer was part of a 9-2 Buckeye run that put them ahead for the first time. The Buckeyes would push that lead to 31 in the second half behind 5-of-10 shooting from 3-point range.
Carton tied Wesson for the team lead with 13 points, and missed just one of his six shots, including three 3-point makes. Carton dished out back-to-back highlight assists midway through the second half, the first an overhead dime to junior forward Kyle Young for a dunk, then a no-look to sophomore guard Luther Muhammad for a transition layup.
“I think it just comes naturally now,” Carton said. “One thing, my teammates were running the floor very well. It’s giving me many options to give them buckets.”
Young was the star of Ohio State’s season-opening victory Wednesday, but his momentum was stilted Sunday with two early fouls that saw him get replaced by freshman forward E.J. Liddell less than a minute in. Young had just two points in the first half, but a quick second-half start saw him finish with 10 points.
With Young in foul trouble, freshman forward Alonzo Gaffney got his first minutes of the season.
Gaffney hit a contested corner 3-pointer and corralled five boards in the half, but turned the ball over three times, with two coming on post-entry passes.
The Buckeye defense held UMass-Lowell to 30 percent shooting in the first half, and 5-for-23 from 3-point range for the game. Junior guard Obadiah Noel led the way for the River Hawks with 15 points in the game.
Muhammad’s 11 points, on 4-of-6 shooting, were his most in 15 games dating back to a season ago.
Young was the only Buckeye in double-digit scoring against Cincinnati, but five Ohio State players scored at least 10 points Sunday. Still, Holtmann said the back-to-back shaky offensive starts show that the Buckeyes aren’t where they want to be on that side of the ball.
“I don’t think we’re an offensive juggernaut right now by any stretch,” Holtmann said. “It sounds like stating the obvious, Mr. Obvious here, but we’re not there yet. We’re just not there yet.”
Ohio State returns to the Schottenstein Center Wednesday for a 7 p.m. matchup with No. 10 Villanova.