Bucks Win Choppy Season Opener

The Ohio State basketball team kicked off its season Friday night with a 73-42 win over Wright State. The victory wasn't pretty for the No. 3 Buckeyes, but Thad Matta will take it as the team now turns its focus to Tuesday's matchup with No. 8 Florida.

It was a flu shot, Thad Matta explained, that had his voice uncharacteristically raspy in the moments after No. 3 Ohio State knocked off Wright State 73-42 in the Buckeyes' highly anticipated season opener.

Given the choppy nature of a game that eventually turned into a lopsided win for the Buckeyes, Matta still felt the need to clarify it wasn't the way his team played in the first 40 minutes of the 2011-12 season that had his voice already disappearing.

But a combined 45 fouls and 39 turnovers between the two teams certainly didn't provide a therapeutic recovery in Matta's bout with illness, particularly after being forced to wait longer than usual while anticipating the 9 p.m. tipoff time.

It wasn't an aesthetically pleasing victory for a crowd desperate to see their Buckeyes make last year's loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 a distant memory.

Matta, instead, settled for simply getting a win.

"It was a good win for us opening up," Matta said. "It was an odd game, honestly. I don't know if we ever made it three possessions (back and forth without a whistle). The thing we kept talking about with our guys during our timeouts was not losing our intensity and I think we did a good job with that, especially on the defensive end."

Perhaps it was hard for the youthful Buckeyes (1-0) to get into any offensive rhythm with the constant stoppages caused by fouls and turnovers in the first half, but Ohio State turned to sophomore big man Jared Sullinger to lead the way.

In the first game of his second season with the Buckeyes Sullinger accounted for 19 points and nine rebounds while senior forward William Buford scored 13 points and dished out four assists.

Sophomore guard Aaron Craft added 10 points and three steals for the Buckeyes, who allowed Wright State to stay within striking distance before putting the game out of reach when starting the second half on a 10-0 run to open up a 24-point lead.

"That was a player thing," Sullinger responded when asked if Matta put emphasis on starting the second half quickly during a halftime speech. "We came out and put our foot on their throats. We just picked up the intensity even though we were up (big at the half). It is always important for us to keep up our intensity."

Matta once again turned to his bench against the Raiders after using all of his reserves in the Buckeyes' blowout of Walsh in an exhibition game Nov. 6. The head coach, not known for being liberal with his rotation, played every player on the roster, including freshman Trey McDonald who was thought to have been on the edge of potentially redshirting.

Lenzelle Smith Jr. kept his spot in the starting lineup and played 20 minutes, scoring eight points and grabbing seven boards in the process, but the Buckeyes were able to open up a 14-point halftime lead from the free throw line.

Despite being within 10 points until the final minutes of the first half, Wright State paved the way for the Buckeyes with fouls, as Ohio State spent the last 10 minutes of the first half in the double bonus.

OSU made nearly as many free throws (16) in the first half as Wright State attempted shots (17).

"We were just trying to be aggressive," Buford said. "We need to get better at executing offense, but I think we did very well to open up the season."

Matta had expressed concern about staying in an offensive flow while valuing each possession in the game and the head coach understands it will be an even bigger challenge in Ohio State's next game.

The Buckeye will have their first early test of the season when hosting No. 8 Florida Nov. 15 in Value City Arena.

Ohio State knocked off Florida 93-75 in Gainesville, Fla., a year ago. The Gators, coming off a 99-59 win over Jackson State in its season opener, will look to avenge the loss to the Buckeyes a year ago.

Both Matta and his players feel immense growth in just the days in between the two games is a must if the Buckeyes plan on defending its highest preseason ranking since being ranked No. 1 to kick off the season in 1961.

"Much better," Buford said when asked how the Buckeyes must play against Florida. "A lot better or it isn't going to be pretty." Matta agreed.

"It is obviously a huge test," Matta said. "Florida is obviously a very talented basketball team. They have more guys back then we do off of last year's team. I think we will be able to tell a lot about this team by the way we come out on Tuesday."

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