Unselfish Buckeyes Pass Way To Win

Ohio State's NCAA tournament opening win against UTSA seemed like a normal 1 vs. 16 blowout, but it was notable for one reason -- how well the Buckeyes passed the ball. OSU had a season-high 26 assists on 29 field goals, one reason the Buckeye offense purred so efficiently on the way to the win. OSU players said that was no mistake.

CLEVELAND – It's hard to pick one assist out of a school NCAA tournament record 26 that stood out in Ohio State's opening win Friday against UTSA, but if there was one, it went to freshman Aaron Craft.

With about 11 minutes to go in the Buckeyes' 75-46 win, Craft lofted an inbounds pass toward the Ohio State basket. Rising above the fray, senior Dallas Lauderdale pulled in the ball with one hand and jammed it through the hoop with authority, bringing the sellout crowd in Quicken Loans Arena to its feet.

While Lauderdale first called the pass "excellent" when queried, he later changed his tune upon reconsidering.

"Actually, it wasn't a great pass," Lauderdale said. "He threw it too high, and I had to go up and get it. That's what made the dunk a little better."

When it was suggested Craft putting a little bit too much air on the pass probably got him on "SportsCenter," Lauderdale smiled.

"I appreciate it," he said. "He's gonna be on there too for the pass."

That unselfish nature from Lauderdale and Craft on down allowed OSU to post a nearly unheard of ratio of 26 helpers on 29 buckets, one reason the Buckeyes had little trouble putting the 16th-seeded Roadrunners away early.

Craft was kept off the scoresheet for the first time since Dec. 12 vs. Western Carolina, but the freshman led the party with seven assists. David Lighty, William Buford and Jon Diebler also had five apiece for the Scarlet and Gray, allowing OSU to shoot 55.8 percent from the floor and 50.0 from beyond the arc.

"I think it has to speak to how unselfish guys are on this team," Craft said afterward. "I don't think you could talk to one person in here who cares how the ball gets to the basket, as long as it gets there. I think it's awesome to see us share the ball like that."

The unselfishness tricked all the way down to freshman Deshaun Thomas, who finished with 13 points on 5-on-7 shooting but also made the extra pass a few times. He finished with a career-high three assists, bumping his season total of 17.

"I'm gonna look for the open man," he said with a smile. "We can share the ball."

Added head coach Thad Matta, "The most important stat – he had three assists today. … Him making the kick-out passes he did today was exciting."

Ohio State started its unselfish ways early, assisting on 9 of its first 10 shots and 14 of 15 at the half. Much of that was a function of the UTSA zone, which allowed the OSU shooters to get open and also allowed the Buckeyes to find seams near the free-throw line and in some other areas.

"I think we just really did a good job of moving the ball," Diebler said. "With their zone, they're really extended, and we did a good job of getting in the middle, getting the ball to the middle. Dave did a great job of finding guys and so did Will. It was just a great overall game, very unselfish.

"That's how we've been playing all year, and that's how we plan on doing it the rest of the year."

The only tricky part was getting the ball into the post, where Jared Sullinger was often swarmed when the ball came inside. As a result, Sullinger got off to a slow start, barely touching the ball before the first media timeout and then taking an offensive foul when he did finally get it.

Ohio State's hot shooting from outside opened things up, though, which was best shown early in the second half. With the defense forced to spread out, Diebler quickly fired a pass by two outstretched arms into Sulllinger, who had to simply turn and lay the ball into the hoop after getting the entry pass.

"That's what everybody fails to realize, my teammates make everything easy," said Sullinger, who finished with 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting. "My post moves, they make it easy because we have nothing but shooters around me. I'm so fortunate to have shooters and people that know the system and know where to get to that I can trust. That's a great feeling to have other people around me."

Add it all up and OSU's 26 assists served as a season high. That's a dangerous thought for teams the Buckeyes will match up with the rest of the way, but Lighty said OSU's play in the opener wasn't out of character.

"I think that goes back to our team being unselfish," Lighty said. "You know, just moving the ball and giving up a good shot for a great shot. I think that's what makes us so good."

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