There were three current or former walk-ons and a career end-of-the-bench big man alongside team captain Velimir Radinovic for the opening tap, which, in fitting OSU fashion (at least for this season), was easily controlled by Radinovic but corralled by EIU's Jason Wright for a breakaway layup.
But OSU coach Jim O'Brien made his point and the Buckeyes, including some who had seen at least some action previously in this weird year, scored plenty of them as well in a 69-50 win over the visiting Panthers.
In the wake of Saturday's embarrassing 75-59 loss at Seton Hall, O'Brien decided to start a lineup of mostly bench players who finished that game by playing hard. As a result, freshman Nick Dials opened at point guard, senior Shaun Smith was at the two, junior Ugo Nwankwo started at the three and junior Matt Marinchick was at power forward.
O'Brien said he made the move as a way to shake things up.
"This is new for me," O'Brien said. "We're trying to come up with a solution to change the way we have performed. It's not always about playing well. But it should always be about the effort. We should always play hard."
That ragtag group, particularly Dials, got a rousing ovation to open the game. Just before the first TV timeout with 15:21 left in the first half, O'Brien sent a lineup of mainstays to the scorer's table, immediately eliciting a chorus of boos. The reserves-turned-starters had staked OSU (6-4) to an 11-7 lead.
"This is a blue collar operation," O'Brien said regarding the boos. "There has been a tradition here and if people see that perhaps that tradition is not being upheld, they respond.
"One point about the booing, I'm not so certain the booing was directed at the guys going in. It was more a case of, I think, perhaps support for the guys going out."
A 19-point win over an Eastern Illinois team that fell to 1-7 isn't exactly like a shiny new bike under the tree on Christmas morning -- especially when EIU's only win was against NAIA St. Francis (Ill.). But it was better than a lump of coal, certainly.
"I think Coach has been racking his brain about what to do with this team," said Radinovic, who led the Buckeyes with 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting. "The team needed an attitude adjustment. The message was sent and the guys responded. We played well today. I just try to lead by example and work hard. I was glad he saw that."
Nick Dials added nine points, hitting 3 of 6 three-point tries in a career-high 19 minutes.
"The way the game started, he seemed like he belonged," O'Brien said of Dials, a former schoolboy star at Willard, Ohio. "He makes the three, he was doing a good job defensively. There was no reason to not put him back in. He looked like he should have been one of the guys who should have been in the game."
All told, 11 OSU players played 12 or more minutes and 10 OSU players tallied. Brandon Fuss-Cheatham, Ivan Harris and Ricardo Billings all added seven points. Terence Dials and Tony Stockman, 2 of 11 from the floor, each had six points. J.J. Sullinger's troubles continued as he had just three points in 18 minutes.
Nick Dials brought down the house -- OK, the announced 13,180 in attendance at 19,100-seat Value City Arena -- with a three-pointer just 1:15 into the game.
"I was just trying to get everybody emotionally involved," Dials said. "I was trying to get the crowd into it and get the blood flowing. That's the way I play. That's the way I've always played."
Nwankwo then nailed a three-pointer in transition and made a reverse layup to help stake the Buckeyes to their early lead.
Stockman came on and hit a trey off a feed from Sullinger, then he and Nick Dials took turns setting each other up for three-pointers and Radinovic completed a conventional three-point play that gave OSU a 24-11 lead with 8:54 left in the half. The lead surged as high as 16 as Fuss-Cheatham made a layup in transition to put the Buckeyes up 36-20 with 38 seconds left in the half. OSU led 36-21 at halftime.
Eastern Illinois made its best push of the night, going on a 12-4 run early in the second half to cut the OSU lead to 43-33 with 14:33 left in the game.
But Ohio State answered with a 12-2 run to push the lead back out to 20 at 55-35 with 8:26 left. Harris came up big here, scoring seven points during the run.
OSU enjoyed its biggest lead at 22 points when Fuss-Cheatham made a layup in transition to put the Buckeyes up 63-41 with 4:13 left.
Aaron Patterson led EIU with 15 points. The Panthers outrebounded OSU 35-27, but the Buckeyes forced 18 turnovers -- including eight on steals.
The Buckeyes will have Christmas Eve and Christmas day off before resuming practice on Friday. They host Dartmouth at 2 p.m. Sunday (ESPN-Plus).