But those fears were unfounded as OSU jumped out to leads of 21-2 and 32-8 on its way to a relatively easy 78-61 win over the Cougars. The win helped the Buckeyes (4-0) advance to Wednesday's Guardians Classic championship game against Creighton (4-0), which demolished Missouri 78-54 in Tuesday's other semifinal.
Sophomore forward Ivan Harris led the Buckeyes with a career-high 19 points. Harris made his first eight shots and ended up 9 of 11 from the floor. Harris, whose previous high was 13 points last year against San Diego State, also had four rebounds.
Je'Kel Foster added nine points, while J.J. Sullinger added seven points. Jamar Butler had six. Matt Sylvester netted five points and Matt Terwilliger scored four. Brandon Fuss-Cheatham had two points and a career-high nine assists against one turnover in 25 minutes.
OSU shot better than 50 percent from the floor for its fourth straight game. The Buckeyes ended up hitting 57.1 percent of their shots from the floor (32 of 56), including 42.9 percent (9 of 21) on three-pointers. The Buckeyes held their fourth opponent under 40 percent shooting as Houston shot 38.7 percent (24 of 62) from the floor.
"We made shots and I think that was one of the big keys in the game," Matta told WBNS-AM. "Ivan got off to a great start and we were taking good shots. We got out to that lead, 32-8, and we lost some of our toughness. That happens from time to time, but I don't want it to.
"That's what we talked about at halftime, having composure and playing. I thought we did a better job with that in the second half."
Dwight Jones led Houston (2-2) with 15 points, while Ramon Dyer had 12 points and Andre Owens had 10.
The teams opened the game tied at 2-2 before Ohio State reeled off 19 straight points. Harris scored eight of his points during this run and Stockman nailed a couple of three-pointers. Harris hit a jumper as OSU moved ahead 21-2 with 13:20 left in the first half. After Dials made a jumper 30 seconds later, OSU had made its first 10 shots.
"We talk about it all the time and the one thing our guys have got to understand is a bad shot is a turnover," Matta said of his team's shot selection.
OSU later reeled off nine straight points – four from Butler and a three-point play by Dials – to go up 32-8 with 9:40 left in the first half.
Houston rallied with a 12-3 run, keyed by five points each from Lanny Smith and Chris Lawson, to cut the lead to 35-20 with 6:30 left in the half.
OSU then reeled off seven straight points – two on a dunk by Harris, three from Stockman and a layup from Fuss-Cheatham – to go back up 42-20 with 3:20 left.
But Owens hit a pair of three-pointers in the final 40 seconds to help Houston trim the gap down to 44-30 at halftime.
Houston got as close as 10 at 46-36 on a Dyer jumper with 17:30 left, but could get no closer. Foster and Sylvester hit back to back three-pointers to give OSU a 64-44 lead with eight minutes left. Jones made a couple of late three-pointers to keep the final margin under 20.
Creighton is one of those dangerous mid-majors you hear a lot about.
The Bluejays, who were 20-9 last year, rolled to an easy win over Mizzou. Nate Funk, a 6-3 guard, tallied a season-high 21 points, while guard Johnny Mathies added 18. Creighton hit 12 of 26 three-point tries against Missouri.
Creighton, led by 11th-year head coach Dana Altman, opened with a 74-40 win over Alcorn State. Kellen Miliner, a 6-3 guard, had 20 points and Funk scored 17.
The Bluejays then nipped Iona 68-62 to advance to the Guardians final four. Funk had 18, Miliner scored 14 and 6-7 forward Jimmy Motz added 12.
Creighton then hosted Arkansas-Pine Bluff in a non-tournament game Friday, winning 83-58. Funk scored 18 points, while Motz and 6-9 forward Jeffrey Day each had 12 points.
The championship game is set for 9 p.m. Eastern time Wednesday. It will be televised by CSTV (College Sports TV). It will not be televised locally in Columbus.
OSU returns home Saturday to host Chattanooga at St. John Arena. It will be OSU's first game at SJA since February 1998.