Buckeyes Bounce Ashland In Opener

The passes were not always crisp and the shots did not always fall, but the two-time defending Big Ten champions kicked things off with an exhibition game against Ashland. Read on for all the details.

Prior to opening the season by playing on Halloween night, Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said he was worried his team would be more trick than treat when the Buckeyes took the court for the first time.

Then again, when any team's starting lineup for the first exhibition game of the season includes two freshmen and just two upperclassmen, there are reasons to be nervous. On the final scoresheet, it appears Matta had little to worry about as the Buckeyes easily took care of visiting Ashland, 88-59, in front of a sparse crowd at Value City Arena.

But early-season progress is not measured in wins and losses, and Matta knows that. More important were the lessons he could learn about his young squad and the progress made since the start of practice slightly more than two weeks ago.

"I really thought going into this game, based on what I'd seen, that we could make a bloopers video," Matta said. "I thought they did a pretty good job. We have a ways to go, but we didn't want to run a whole lot tonight."

The Buckeyes opened with two seniors, Jamar Butler and Othello Hunter, one sophomore in David Lighty and two freshmen in Kosta Koufos and Jon Diebler. Matta used fairly consistent substituting throughout the game, keeping core groups of players together.

As it turns out, the team's substitutions were all predetermined at a meeting among the coaches early Wednesday morning.

"Tonight how we started the game was basically predicated on practice," Matta said. "We were able to look at some different combinations. Those guys provided a spark coming off the bench."

In his first game back at point guard after sliding to shooting guard a season ago, Butler directed the OSU offense. He displayed signs of chemistry with Lighty, twice finding him with fast-break passes that were thrown before Lighty had turned to look for the ball.

Matta said Butler showed him what he needed to see in his first game back at the point. He finished with 7 points, 7 assists and 1 turnover.

But the story of the night was the play of the team's newcomers, all seven of them.

"It was exciting," Diebler said of his first game. "This is the moment we've all been waiting for. We've been going at it for 18 days now. You're ready to come out and see a new team. We were all excited to get started."

Of the freshmen, Koufos was the only player to score in double digits. He finished tied with Hunter for the team lead with 15 points on 7 of 10 shooting and with 12 rebounds. Lighty paced the Buckeyes with 13 points.

After the game, Koufos was asked about filling the shoes of former OSU center Greg Oden, last season's No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft.

"Greg Oden's a tremendous player," said Koufos, adding that he has spoken with Oden several times. "I've got the utmost respect for him. They are big shoes to fill in.

"(But) we can't worry about the guys in the past. We just have to work as a team and get better all the time."

Ashland held a short-lived lead early when a trey from Brett Bartlett made the score 12-9, but the Buckeyes responded by a three-pointer of their own from P.J. Hill to knot the game.

From there, freshman Eric Wallace did the bulk of the damage during a 13-0 run by the Buckeyes that came entirely with the team's second unit in the game.

First, the 6-5 swingman hit a mid-range baseline jumper to give OSU a 14-12 lead it would not relinquish. Two possessions later, he came up with a steal and a fast break that led to a dunk, extending the lead to four. Two possessions after that, he converted a pass in the paint from Lighty and laid it in, stretching the lead to six points.

The run lasted just more than six minutes, and Wallace also contributed two steals and one blocked shot. He would finish with seven points, four rebounds and three steals.

"That happens every day in practice," he said of his instant production. "(Matta) expects us to be ready."

At the half, Koufos nearly had a double-double: 10 points and 8 rebounds, and the Buckeyes had a 47-26 lead.

As a team, the Buckeyes shot 56.3 percent from the floor. Behind the arc, however, they were just 5 of 18 – 27.8 percent. No player had more than one three-pointer, with Butler connecting on 1 of 6. Sophomore guard P.J. Hill, who transferred into the program during the summer to provide a backup to Butler, canned his only trey attempt.

The only two players not to score were the team's two walk-ons, Danny Peters and Mark Titus.


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