Bucks Top Gators, Pass Early Test

The No. 3 Ohio State basketball team passed its first test of the early season with an 81-74 victory over No. 7 Florida. The Buckeyes, led by William Buford's 21 points, relied on veterans to help them to the early victory.

Playing a top-10 team just two games into the season was supposed to be a barometer for No. 3 Ohio State. Instead, the Buckeyes reaffirmed what they already knew in an 81-74 victory over No. 7 Florida Tuesday night.

Viewed as a test for the youth, the game instead was taken over by senior William Buford and sophomore Aaron Craft, both of which helped the Buckeyes seal a non-conference victory over Florida for the second consecutive year.

Buford scored a team-high 21 points and sophomore big man Jared Sullinger added 16, while Craft's 13 points and seven assists came in addition to defensive dominance that repeatedly took the Gators out of its rhythm.

"I don't think I can put a price tag on (experience)," Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said. "When you have guys who have been in that type of environment, it's different. You hope those guys are guys you're going to be able to count on."

A year ago it was in Ohio State's win over Florida in Gainesville where Craft stormed onto the scene as a freshman. Roughly 12 months later, Florida head coach Billy Donovan again saw Craft continually break his team's press while taking the guards out of the flow of the offense.

"I thought he clearly dominated the game," Donovan said of Craft, who also had three steals. "He dominated the game from start to finish. He was the whole key to the game, and more importantly, he did it defensively. He physically beat up our guards, totally within the context and rules of the game. He physically manhandled our guys and he did it against everybody.

"Steals, strips, loose balls, dives, he's as good as anybody out there," he continued. "I've got tremendous respect and admiration for him, because he doesn't get the proper respect he deserves. But he's as good as anybody out there."

The Gators came out of the gate quickly, scoring four three-pointers in the first six minutes of the game, building up a 14-6 lead in the process. However, the Buckeyes responded with a 7-0 run to get back in the game.

Sporting the mental toughness Sullinger stressed before the game to withstand inevitable Florida runs, Ohio State was sparked by a Craft steal that he took from Mike Rosario before driving to the basket and finishing beautifully with his right hand. A three-pointer by Buford on the team's following possession cut Florida's lead to 17-16 with 10:36 remaining in the first half.

"It seemed like it was going to be a long night," said Craft, who didn't see the Buckeyes achieve its first lead until there were roughly three minutes remaining in the first half. "But we did a good job adjusting as a team and getting it under control."

For the second consecutive game Ohio State started the second half quickly, this time getting out to a 14-6 run to extend its lead to 12 points with 13:38 remaining on the clock. Florida wouldn't lead for the remainder of the game.

Though Buford, who scored 12 of his points in the second half, hit a big three to push Ohio State's lead to 62-46 with 7:55 remaining, it was the play of Boston College transfer Evan Ravenel that left his teammates impressed.

With Sullinger in foul trouble in the second half, Matta turned to Ravenel to give his star big man some relief. During the span in which Ravenel was on the floor, Ohio State extended its lead by three points. He provided a spark on the offensive end, finishing with seven points, a rebound, a steal and a he drew a charge.

"It was the usual," Sullinger said. "That's what he does in practice, that's the way he played. You see that 3-for-3 (from the floor), he took a big-time charge, had a big-time rebound, that's what he does."

Florida freshman Bradley Beal led the Gators (1-1) with 17 points and guard Kenny Boynton added 15 points, including eight in the final minute to keep his team in the game.

However, Ohio State made 27-of-34 free throw attempts, including 19-of-24 in the second half, and shot 47.2 percent from the floor. The Buckeyes turned the ball over seven times, but the Ohio State forced 16 Florida turnovers.

"We just didn't get complacent like we did (against Wright State)," Buford said. "We just want to keep getting better and keep our focus. We want to keep our toughness about us. We knew Florida was a great team."

After a rough first half in which Deshaun Thomas had noticeable defensive breakdowns, the sophomore settled down and turned out a productive game. Thomas finished with 15 points and six rebounds.

"I thought Deshaun settled down," Matta said. "When (Erik) Murphy hit a couple threes on him (in the first half), he showed a little bit of frustration. But he was doing what we were asking him to do. Once we kind of got him and said, ‘Hey, we're OK here,' I thought in the second half he did a great job of making adjustments."

Keeping his spot in the starting lineup at shooting guard was Lenzelle Smith Jr., who played scored six points, grabbed three rebounds, two assists and two steals to show he is capable of providing a little bit of everything.

But Matta wasn't nearly as active with his bench as he was in the season-opening win over Wright State. However, Buford addressed the team in the locker room to remind the younger players that everyone is needed.

Matta appreciated the sentiment, saying everyone will get their chance in the coming games.

"The young guys didn't get as much (time), but we've got time to get them ready," Matta said. "Very similar to what we did last year down there, we played our veterans (against Florida)."

The Buckeyes felt they needed to prove they belonged in the top five. Sullinger, however, said this team is just getting started.

"As young as we are, we've only played two games," he said. "We're only going to get better and so are they. It's just a stepping stone."

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