The margin of victory probably wasn't as much as most would have hoped for, but OSU head coach Thad Matta will take any win as his team continues to iron out its offensive identity.
The Buckeyes improved to 2-0 on the season and will face the winner of tonight's Seton Hall-Washington game on Sunday. The following are some initial thoughts from Ohio State's second win of the season.
• This is what Deshaun Thomas returned for – I hate to say it, but this won't be the first game of the season where Ohio State gets stagnant on offense. With so many types of players that can be used in so many different ways, it is going to take time for the Buckeyes to get on the same page – especially in the half court offense. However, this is exactly when it is good to be Thomas. He's a proven entity and the team will always turn to him to get them out of their scoring ruts when they come.
This is why Thomas turned his back on the NBA. He finally has a chance to be the cornerstone on offense, and he made the most of the opportunity against the Rams. With the Buckeyes clinging to slim leads in the second half, he scored 17 of his team-high 25 points to lead OSU to victory. And the beauty with Thomas is that it comes in so many different ways – inside, from beyond the arc, off the offensive glass and in transition. The list goes on and on. It will be pretty exciting to see what he accomplishes offensively as the go-to guy in OSU's offense for the first time in his career.
• Offensive-minded Craft a welcomed sight – Craft has done so many things well in his first two years at Ohio State, but scoring never was one of the aspects of the game he had to focus on. Without Jared Sullinger on the floor, that is all different this year. And after scoring 20 points in the season-opening win over Albany, Craft came out firing on offense against Rhode Island, scoring 10 in the first half. Though he had only three points in the second half, it is an encouraging thing to see him take shots with authority. He doesn't hesitate to pull up or drive when he has a foot of room. With Craft averaging 15 points – which I think he's very capable of doing – this will eventually be a dangerous basketball team.
• Sam Thompson is a freak in the making, but – He won't be able to take that next step and become the star that I expect him to eventually become until he develops his offensive game more. Though I think his jumper has come around some, there are still signs of necessary improvement – like missing free throws by a mile and sometimes struggling with his ball handling. These are all things that can come as soon as this season, but it is just a matter of gaining comfort in an expanded role. We saw the usual out of him tonight with some acrobatic block attempts and some nice dunks, but the thing that's separating him from being an outstanding player is becoming a reliable offensive threat.
• What are the expectations at center? – If this team can combine the talents of Evan Ravenel and Amir Williams to even partially make up for what Jared Sullinger brought, Ohio State is going to be in good hands. The most obvious area this team needs to sure up is rebounding from the five, especially because you're going to get plenty from Thomas, who grabbed 10 against the Rams. OSU outrebounded the Rams 34-21, which was a big improvement from breaking even against Walsh and Albany, and that needs to be the norm. Are there offensive expectations between Williams and Ravenel? I'll reserve my opinion on that matter for a few more games, but it is clear now that the rebounding is a must.
• LaQuinton Ross has some work to do – Though Ross played sparingly against the Rams, I think there were times it was clear that he was taking shots out of the flow of the offense. It's easy to forget that Ross is young given how much his name has popped up on message boards and social media, but I think he's still in that phase where he is focusing on how he can get a shot instead of playing good defense and staying within the flow of Ohio State's offense. Early in Thomas' career that happened, too, and I think that's quite natural for guys still trying to find a role in college. However, the light will go on when he realizes that it is the other things that Matta is looking for.