Bucks Overcome Slow Start, Bounce Valpo

The No. 3 Ohio State basketball team led Valparaiso by only four points at halftime, but the Buckeyes bounced back with a 19-2 run to start the second half. The Buckeyes, who eventually won 80-47, are now 6-0 in the young season.

The Ohio State men's basketball team was one day removed from Thanksgiving and four away from its marquee non-conference matchup with No. 6 Duke. Valparaiso was pleased to remind the No. 3 Buckeyes of the importance of the present.

Call Crusaders guard Jay Harris the messenger.

Knocking down a 3-point jumper with 43 seconds remaining in the first half, Harris kept Valpo within four points of its highly ranked opponent at the break.

But after a 15-minute intermission in which head coach Thad Matta promised he remained calm, the Buckeyes outscored Valpo 47-18 in the second half before running away with the 80-47 win in front of 15,606 fans in Value City Arena on Nov 25.

"We didn't keep a close enough eye on (Jared Sullinger during Thanksgiving)," said sophomore point guard Aaron Craft, offering a comical explanation for Ohio States' slow start. "But Valpo is a really good team and we didn't come out ready to play. That's all on us."

Despite letting Harris score 15 of his team-high 18 points in a first half littered with defensive miscues that left the dynamic guard with open looks, the Buckeyes tightened up in the second half and forced four turnovers in Valpo's first six possessions.

Ohio State scored off three of the turnovers, jumping out quickly by scoring the first eight points of the second half. Three-pointers by Jared Sullinger and Aaron Craft moments later continued a Buckeyes run that eventually extended to 19-2, effectively turning a close game into a blowout.

"I wanted to see us play out of it," explained Matta, who had just witnessed his Buckeyes knock down their first eight shot attempts of the second half after struggling to convert offensively to begin the game. "I thought we did a good job of executing in the second half."

Senior guard William Buford helped ensure Valparaiso (5-2) didn't have the means to respond to the extensive run, scoring 17 of his season-high 25 points in the second half.

Connecting on 4-of-4 of his attempts from beyond the arc, Buford said he felt comfortable in his first offensive explosion of the season. Matta was pleased with what he saw out of the senior.

"William has really been efficient," Matta said. "That's something that we've been on him about, playing efficiently on offense."

Craft made an apparent attempt at being more aggressive offensively and the sophomore point guard proved he was capable of bolstering Ohio State's offense by scoring nine of the team's first 15 points. He finished the game with a season-high 15 points and eight assists.

"That was something we talked about before the game," Matta said. "We wanted Aaron to be a little bit more aggressive. I thought he did a very good job of attacking."

After attempting only five field goals in the first half Sullinger finished the game with his fourth-consecutive double-double, registering 14 points and 13 rebounds. Deshaun Thomas added 12 points and sophomore guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. had six points and five assists.

"We played well for a stretch in the first half," Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew said. "We didn't play a great 20 minutes, but I was optimistic we'd be able to play a good second half. Then we all saw Ohio State's ability to go on a quick run."

Ironically enough, Ohio State likely felt like it did everything in its power to create a comfortable lead in the game's first 20 minutes. The Buckeyes won the turnover battle by a lopsided margin, they didn't allow the Crusaders to shoot a free throw and they grabbed seven steals.

Instead, the halftime box score was just an indication that statistics don't always tell the entire story. But the Crusaders stayed in the game because of Harris' hot shooting from beyond the arc.

Valparaiso converted five shots from long range – three from Harris – in the first half and the Buckeyes converted on just 1-of-7 attempts from beyond the arc, helping the Crusaders erase any progress Ohio State made in other aspects of the game.

Ohio State shot just only 37.5 percent from the field and Valpo was just under 50 percent. However, the Buckeyes' turned the tables in a big way in the second half when it limited the Crusaders to just 22.6 percent shooting while ramping up their shooting percentage to 54.3 percent.

"We couldn't make shots (in the first half)," Sullinger said. "I missed a couple easy ones, Will missed a couple easy ones and Deshaun missed a couple easy ones. We just had to make shots in the second half and that's what we did."

Buford's scoring onslaught continued into his second-consecutive game, as the senior finished only one point shy of his career high. In Ohio State's win over VMI earlier in the week, Buford scored 23 points.

Though Matta questioned Buford's shot selection at times in the early portions of the season, Ohio State's head coach was pleased with what he's seeing out of the senior recently. In the past two games Buford has spearheaded Ohio State's scoring efforts, knocking down 19 of his last 32 shot attempts during that span.

"My teammates were able to get me the ball and they were setting great screens," he said. "I was fortunate to knock them down. I just took my time and focused on taking good shots."

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