Playing one of the worst teams in college basketball, Ohio State’s offense came in fits and starts Tuesday against Grambling State.
The Buckeyes trounced the Tigers, who entered the game as the lowest-ranked team in the country according to Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, by a final score of 82-55, but turnovers and missed free throws gave the game a stilted pace and resulted in multiple scoring droughts for the Buckeyes.
Still, Ohio State scored more points than they did in all but eight games last season, led by a 22 from from Kam Williams to fall one point short of his career high. The sophomore finished a red hot 9-of-12 from the field and 3-of-5 from 3-point range.
“I would attribute that to my defense," Williams said of his offensive explosion. "I feel like I was active, I was locked in, I was using my athleticism on defense and that got me going offensively. My job on this team is to bring energy off the bench and whatever my role is I’m just going to follow what coach says. I just want my defense to come first because I feel like I can impact the game in that way.”
While Ohio State dominated the scoreboard and several statistical categories, they left the big win with plenty to work on.
Ohio State turned the ball over 17 times in the win and got into a fouling contest with the Tigers, committing 19 on the night compared to 23 from Grambling State. Worse yet, the Buckeyes connected on just 13-26 free throws in the big win.
“That’s the learning curve," Matta said of the foul trouble, adding that the free throw struggles surprised him. "You look right now across college basketball. Some games it’s being called really, really close, some games it’s not. I think probably another week or so there probably should be a pretty good flow to it. With that said our guys have got to adjust and do a better job with that.”
Still, the Buckeyes remained undefeated on the young season, never trailing against the Tigers. Kieta Bates Diop got things going with a 3-point play 41 seconds into the game to get Ohio State started on a 8-2 run that began the game.
Early 3-pointers from Marc Loving, Jae’Sean Tate and Bates-Diop helped the Buckeyes build a 21-11 lead just over eight minutes into the contest. The teams went on a scoreless run of 2:26 from there that featured two turnovers and three missed free throws from the Buckeyes.
Ohio State finally broke that drought with a steal and layup from Williams for his first field goal of the season. The sophomore followed that with a 3-pointer.
Williams’ personal 5-0 run was matched by freshman point guard A.J. Harris. The speedster from Dayton nailed two free throws for his first career points before nailing a 3 of his own to complete Ohio State’s 10-0 run and give the Buckeyes a comfortable 31-11 advantage with 7:50 left until halftime.
“I think that the biggest thing, especially with Kam, we had talked about there are a lot of different ways you can effect a basketball game besides making shots," Matta said. "He had that unbelievable play from the help side, they ran a high-low and he got a steal out of that and that kind of ignited him, just in terms of playing better."
Ohio State would add four points to their advantage before the break, taking a 44-20 advantage to the half thanks to a buzzer-beating tip-in from freshman Daniel Giddens.
After being shut out in the first half, starting center Trevor Thompson got going in the second. After a Loving layup and a jumper from Bates-Diop the 6-11 big man reeled off eight straight points in the paint for the Buckeyes to extend the advantage to 56-25 for the home team.
“I was happy to see Trevor, I think he got three straight dunks there," Matta said. "We were saying we need to throw the ball inside and he did a great job of sealing off and finishing. We’ve got to get that balance of the inside-out. It’s a great way to play, throw it inside and throw it back out or finish inside.”
With the large second-half lead Matta was able to substitute liberally as the team coasted to the victory with the Buckeyes margin holding relatively steady over the final dozen minutes.
All 10 eligible scholarship Buckeyes saw the court in the win and all 10 scored. Joining Williams in double figures were Loving and Bates-Diop with 14 apiece. Walk-on guard Joey Lane also got in the game, though he didn't score in 1:52 of action. Freshmen Dave Bell also got the first points of his Ohio State career, making three free throws.
“That’s big for us," Matta said of experimenting with his rotation. "That’s something that we are really, really looking at right now just in terms of who can connect out there, who can play. Foul trouble is always going to throw a little bit of a loop for us. We chart every second a guy is on the floor their plus-minus, trying to look at the five guys that go together. This was a great opportunity to get some guys more minutes and get them into the flow.”