Head coach Thad Matta was happy to see the new Buckeyes excel in their opener.
"I thought the young guys did a pretty good job tonight," he said. "I was pleased with how everybody played just in terms of – we had a couple lulls offensively and we let our guard down defensively a bit too much – but overall sharing the basketball."
One of those young players, highly-touted freshman D'Angelo Russell, started for the Buckeyes and didn't disappoint. The 6-5 shooting guard ushered in a new season with an offensive rebound and a jumper, giving the Buckeyes their first lead of the year. Ohio State would surrender that advantage as the River Hawks held 4-2 and 5-4 leads early, but the route was essentially on from the moment Russell's shot went through the net.Though it was his first official college game, Russell said there were no nerves when he stepped on the floor.
“With the newcomers, I don’t think anybody was nervous," the freshman said. "We’re past that stage, so just stepping up and getting the job done.”
Russell did a little bit of everything, finishing with a team-high 16 points to go along with four rebounds and six assists. His game was epitomized by a 20 second stretch in the first half. He started that sequence by firing a pass through the zone of UMass-Lowell to Marc Loving who finished under the basket, then stole the ball in the back court and found Sam Thompson flying through the air for an alley-oop. Russell capped off that stretch with a basket of his own after another River Hawks turnover. That gave the Buckeyes a 18-5 edge, a lead that wouldn't fall below double digits for the rest of the evening. Ohio State took a 47-25 margin to the break.
The second half was a mirror of the first as the Buckeyes topped the River Hawks 45-27 in the second 20 minutes of action. Despite the scoring disparity after the break, Thompson said there was plenty to improve on from the final 20 minutes.
“I think we did a better job of controlling the basketball in the first half," the senior forward said. "In the second half we allowed them to get inside our zone. We allowed them to put us in some scramble situations. We’ve got to do a better job of controlling the ball and really dictating what the other team does.”
Second-half breakdowns or not, Ohio State was dominant Friday. They were also balanced as all 10 Buckeyes that saw the floor scored and five reached double figures. Redshirt freshman Kam Williams and graduate transfer Anthony Lee both reached double figures in their first game in scarlet and grey, scoring 12 and 13, respectively. Thompson and Loving each had 14, while Shannon Scott nearly had a double-double in his inaugural game as the starting point guard logging nine points and 11 assists.
Prior to the season Matta said he expected a balanced box-score from the Buckeyes this season and he got it in the opener. Thompson said the team will be at it's best when everyone is getting involved.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that can put the ball in the basket," he said. "D’Angelo can make plays, (Lee) can make plays, I can make plays. So a lot of guys that can put the ball in the bucket and we just want to make the most of our time on the court."
With five of the guys who put the ball in the bucket Friday doing so for the first time at Ohio State, a season of change commenced for the Buckeyes.