Buckeyes rout North Florida
The Associated Press
COLUMBUS — Ohio State wants to be a premier team at the end of the season. To do that, the Buckeyes will have to feed off their defense — just like they have been.
Jared Sullinger had 27 points and 13 rebounds, and No. 3 Ohio State roared to a big first-half lead to beat North Florida 85-50 on Monday night.
“Any team that wants to be good on this level has to turn turnovers into easy buckets,” said swingman Lenzelle Smith Jr., who had seven points, five rebounds and set career bests with three steals and five assists.
“Different teams do that well, like your Kentuckys and your North Carolinas. Mostly every time they get a turnover they’re scoring at the other end. This program is just as big as that.”
Deshaun Thomas added 16 points and William Buford 13 for the Buckeyes (4-0), who ran their home winning streak to 26 in a row.
The Buckeyes forced 23 turnovers and converted them into 25 points. That’s become the M.O. for a team in transition that is trying to replace three starters from last season’s club that finished the regular season ranked No. 1.
“With all the time we’ve spent defensively, I would hope that that would be something these guys could lock on to and maybe hang their hat on,” coach Thad Matta said of the Buckeyes ability to score points in transition. “You go back to the game against (No. 7) Florida, at the end of the first half and into the start of the second half, that was probably the difference for us in extending that lead.”
Parker Smith had 10 points for North Florida (1-4), which has lost on the road to heavyweights Alabama, Florida, Miami and the Buckeyes. The Ospreys dropped to 0-11 against ranked teams.
After building a 19-point lead at halftime, Ohio State scored the first six points of the second half and 15 of the first 17.
“Those runs are hard to go against these kind of guys,” North Florida coach Matthew Driscoll said. “I coached at this level for a long time at Baylor and Clemson, the Big 12 and the ACC, and when you have runs like that you can really separate yourself.”
Still, the Ospreys didn’t go away easily. Matta pulled his starters early in the second half but reinserted them because he was unhappy with the play at both ends by the subs.
“Coach Matta told us, ‘Be ready. You’ve got 2 minutes (to rest),”’ Sullinger said. “Of course, Coach Matta’s 2 minutes is about 4 minutes. We kind of knew we were going back in. As soon as we were back in, he said, ‘Pick up the juice. Pick up the intensity. We should be winning by way more.”
After order was restored, and the lead climbed as high as 35, he emptied his bench.
The game was part of the Global Sports Shootout.
In their only previous meeting with a Big Ten team, the Ospreys lost at No. 19 Purdue 77-57 a year ago.
The Buckeyes have won 99 of their past 100 games against unranked opponents in Columbus and are 12-0 against members of the Atlantic Sun Conference.
The Buckeyes didn’t play crisply in the opening half, yet still maintained a 45-26 lead.
They missed their first four free throws and first three shots from the field. But, as usual, their defense helped provide points.
“This is almost like a March week,” Sullinger said of the Buckeyes’ schedule, which includes games on Monday, Wednesday and Friday this week.
“(In March) you play on a Friday, you’re off on Saturday and you have a little practice, and then you’re right back at it on Sunday. It’s a quick turnaround. So it’s kind of a test for what we’ve got coming. It’s almost like a midterm for March.”
Up 24-19, Ohio State went on an 11-2 run with Sullinger scoring five points and Thomas hitting two buckets. The biggest cheer of the night, however, came when Smith stole the ball from North Florida’s Matt Sauey in the backcourt and drove the length of the court for a left-handed tomahawk dunk.
Sullinger had 16 points, Thomas 13 and Buford 10 — all 10 coming in the first 10:11.
The Buckeyes plan on continuing to rely on their defensive pressure from the guards and the inside of play of the burly Sullinger and long-armed Thomas.
“Coach always says we get good shots when we get it inside,” Thomas said. “When we throw it into Sully and me, the percentages are up. That’s one of our goals. We try to be a great 3-point shooting team, but inside’s working real well right now.”
Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/rustymillerap .