It wasn't pretty, but that might be the name of the game in college basketball during the 2013-14 season. With that in mind, BuckeyeSports.com's Ben Axelrod provides his final thoughts on Ohio State's 79-69 win over Ohio University.
Some final thoughts from No. 10 Ohio State's 79-69 win over Ohio, just as soon as the whistle stops blowing.
"That's what we kind of came into this year understanding how games were going to be called. A lot of fouls. A lot of stoppage in play." - OSU guard Aaron Craft.
First, let's talk about the fouls. There were lots of them. Fifty-five to be exact. And 72 free throws too. Craft was the Buckeyes' leading scorer with 18 points, and 14 of those points came from the charity stripe. For better or worse -- and right now, it seems like the latter -- this is college basketball in 2013. The new hand-checking rules appear to be having the effect on the game that everybody thought it would, and until players and coaches adjust, we're doomed for games that run late into the night and are decided at the free throw line.
As for the Bobcats' run that cut OSU's lead to five with fewer than four minutes remaining, it almost seemed inevitable. With the way the game was being called, it was nearly impossible for the Buckeyes to stretch their lead to anymore than 14 points, and as a result, Ohio was able to chop away at the OSU lead, piece by piece. If this game was played a year ago, I think we would've seen the type of 30-point win that we're accustomed to seeing from the Buckeyes in non-conference play, but the Bobcats were a good enough team to muddy up the game and make things close late.
I know that there are already some fans in full-on panic mode after a close call that really wasn't all that close, which is somewhat absurd. Ohio is a talented team with good guard play and a solid post presence, and while Ohio State should've overmatched them, the new rule changes are such that every team in the country is in adjustment mode right now. The Buckeyes looked dominant early on, jumping out to a 9-0 lead, and I think that's a more accurate representation of where this team will be at the end of the season than the final five minutes were.
Since there's already been so much negative in this post, how about a positive in Amir Williams? The junior center recorded his first career double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, making three of his four field goal attempts while going 8-for-10 from the free throw line. Williams isn't Greg Oden and he'll never be Jared Sullinger, but if he can continue to clean up on the boards and make the shots -- and free throws -- that he does get, the Buckeyes will have a plus in an area that many were assuming would be a negative this season.
I was also impressed with the play of Marc Loving. Ohio State's lone freshman who's expected to contribute this season continues to look older than his age, and I'd have to think that Thad Matta would've liked to play him more than nine minutes on Tuesday. The 6-7 Toledo product only took one shot against the Bobcats, a make with 6:09 remaining in the game that pushed Ohio State's lead from nine to 11. The fact that Loving was even in at that point in the contest is a promising sign for his future here, and I'd have to imagine that he'll continue to see valuable minutes as the non-conference portion of the schedule wears on.
Speaking of Loving, Matta played nine players last night, but I think that his rotation winds up at eight when all is said and done. Aside from the starters, Sam Thompson is the only lock to keep his spot, while Loving, Trey McDonald, and Amedeo Della Valle are in a three-man race for the two remaining slots. It'll be an interesting race, as all three bring something unique to the table, but if Matta gets more comfortable with playing a small-ball lineup with LaQuinton Ross at center, I think that McDonald could be the odd man out.
Ross was a mixed bag against Ohio, scoring 10 points on just 3-of-10 shooting. His 2-for-5 outing from 3-point range was probably the biggest cause for his struggles, but he had at least one play where he put the ball on the floor from outside the arc and took it to the hoop in a mere two dribbles. Ross is not Deshaun Thomas in that he won't play as much in the post or even demand the ball on a consistent basis. But I think that he is more athletically gifted than the player that he's being counted on to replace, and the sooner that he can find a steady balance of driving and shooting, the better it will be for the Buckeyes.
As he has for the better part of his time here, Lenzelle Smith Jr. struggled with consistency, but his lone field goal against Ohio proved to be a dagger. Smith spent a good portion of the offseason claiming that his scoring won't come in spurts -- 27 points one game, six the next -- but I'll believe it when I see it. Smith is who he is offensively, and that's a glue guy who can give you points in bunches at times, but he shouldn't be counted on on a nightly basis to put the ball in the bucket.
Shannon Scott again looked solid offensively, but he only took a total of five shots and one free throw en route to an eight-point outing. I think that will be the case with this team moving forward, in the sense that you don't know who's going to shoot the ball how much on any given night. That can prove to be a blessing when it comes to opposing teams' scouting reports, but it can also hinder a team in the inevitable situation where it absolutely needs a guy to go get a basket with the game on the line.
It was almost bizarre to see the Ohio alumni and fans in attendance come alive with five minutes remaining the game, with "OU, oh yeah" and "defense" chants ringing out from the green and white. I went to OU for a year and visited friends in Athens afterwards probably way more than I should've, but it's a special place. It was also cool to see the Columbus Bobcats on the court, Nick Kellogg and Stevie Taylor, put together special games, as each were clearly amped up before and after their homecoming.
Kellogg was asked after the game if his dad had a hard time rooting for the Bobcats, being the Ohio State great that he is. Nick very matter of factly said, ‘No, I'm his son,' and left it at that. It was kind of funny to watch the OSU pregame intro video, which is punctuated with Clark looking into the camera and saying, ‘It's time for Ohio State basketball.'
Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller caught a portion of the game from the family seating section, as did tight end Nick Vannett, who has Central Ohio ties to both Taylor and Kellogg.
Looking ahead, Marquette could be a test for the Buckeyes, as evidenced by the Eagles' No. 17 ranking. The fact that it's being played on the road is cause for concern for Ohio State, as is the fact that unlike on Tuesday, the Buckeyes won't be able to win on sheer talent alone. If OSU can get by Marquette with a win -- and that's a big if -- the Buckeyes will likely be favored in every game that they play until the start of the Big Ten season.