““I don’t know if there were any effects or not,” senior forward Sam Thompson said when asked about the potential distractions. “I know that there shouldn’t have been and that we can’t allow there to be.”
Ohio State got out to a fast start, racing to a 22-7 lead, scoring 11 points on six Dukes turnovers, but the Buckeyes cooled off from there. James Madison outscored the Buckeyes 20-15 from there to go to the half trailing just 37-27.
“We got off to a hot start and then for whatever reason we really slowed ourselves down in the last 10 to 12 minutes of the first half,” Thompson said. “We thought that we stopped attacking, stopped looking to be aggressive at the offensive end.”
That Dukes run coincided with some cold shooting from the Buckeyes. A Thompson 3-pointer with 12:12 left in the first half gave Ohio State their 22-7 lead, but the Buckeyes would not hit another shot from distance for the rest of the game. They missed their final eight 3-pointers and finished just 6-of-18 from deep, well below the 43.8 percent they were connecting on from behind the arc prior to Friday’s game.
The cold shooting extended inside the the 3-point line as well. Ohio State entered the game shooting a nation-leading 60.8 percent from the floor. They connected on eight of their first 13 field goal attempts, but shot just 41.3 percent for the game and 36.4 percent in the second half.
Head coach Thad Matta said he was happy to see his team gut out a win in the first game all season they didn’t shoot above 60 percent.
“I thought we had some really good looks, we just didn’t finish around the basket,” he said. “Every time we ran the action we were supposed to we got wide open shots. That was more of a mental thing, I think, with us playing the score and not having the energy we needed offensively.”
James Madison had that energy, though they lacked the skill to consistently execute. The Dukles missed some easy shots at the rim, though they did have some success going over top of the Buckeyes zone defense with some lob plays.
Lead by Andre Nation, who saw his first action of the season Friday after serving a five-game suspension for fighting with a teammate, the Dukes were able to find the soft spots in the Buckeyes zone. Nation finished with game-high 15 points for James Madison.
“He adds a different dimension to our team,” Dukes coach Matt Brady said of Nation. “He’s an Ohio State-level athlete and one of the better athletes on our team.”
The lackluster first half gave way to better play to start the second. The Buckeyes started on a 12-4, giving them a 49-31 lead and some breathing room over the Dukes. That run was spearheaded by Sam Thompson who scored five points over that stretch. The senior forward finished with 13 points. D’Angelo Russell lead the Buckeyes with 14 while Shannon Scott had seven points, six assists and five steals.
It was the first time this year that the Buckeyes didn’t have at least four players in double figures. Aside from Jae’Sean Tate, who scored six points and grabbed five rebounds in twenty minutes of action, Matta was not pleased with his bench.
“Today we had a little bit of a letdown when we made our first substitution,” the coach said. “Those guys have to understand that when they come in the game they have to bring the juice. Now with that said, I’d give Jae’Sean Tate the game ball today just with his energy and just the passion he played with, I thought he was tremendous. That has to become contagious, we’ve got to get other guys doing this.”
Despite Tate’s effort, the Buckeyes struggled to put away the Dukes. The Ohio State lead ballooned to as many as 23 points, but James Madison refused to go quietly, outscoring the Buckeyes 17-11 to close the game.
The win gives Ohio State a 5-0 start to the season for the fourth time in five seasons. The Buckeyes play at Louisville on Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. in their first road game of the season.