Playing in-state foe Cleveland State at the home of the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers, the Buckeyes opened the game on a 17-3 run, pushed that lead to as many as 24 points and held on the rest of the way for a 80-63 victory.
Facing a tough mid-major team against whom the end result could go a long way toward determining if the Buckeyes will make the NCAA Tournament, OSU (7-3) took the Vikings (7-4) out of the game early after setting the tempo. Junior guard Cedric Jackson hit a trey with 13:26 remaining in the half on just his team's seventh shot of the game – a total aided by five CSU turnovers.
Those five turnovers allowed the Buckeyes to score 11 points, helping stake them to the early lead.
"We were really concerned coming in to the game in regards to their man-to-man defense and how hard they played," OSU head coach Thad Matta said. "One thing we talked about was really spreading them out and getting as many passes as we could. Fortunately we were able to get off to a great start and we were able to continue it."
Playing a man-to-man defense, the Vikings frequently found themselves unable to stop an OSU team that look as athletic as it has all season. In his third consecutive start, freshman guard Evan Turner frequently took his opponents off the dribble and found ways to the basket.
"I think I saw the gaps," Turner said. "I think we all saw the gaps, honestly. Going baseline helped a lot because they left baseline open, and us being bigger and longer than then – even though they are quick and really good defenders – we were able to use our long legs to get where we needed to go."
He would finish with 11 points, but he was not alone in his ability to find openings in the CSU defense. Cleveland native David Lighty, playing in front of 200 friends and family members, finished with 15 points on 6 of 9 shooting.
"It was real fun," Lighty said of playing back home. "I had a lot of fun. A lot of my family members, friends and church family were here. I just tried to put on a show, and luckily my shots were falling early."
CSU would answer but could not get back to within making it less than a four-possession game. A 9-3 run midway through the first half made it 31-23 Buckeyes, but it could have been better for the Vikings had they not turned the ball over four times during that span.
The Buckeyes also got a second-half boost from freshman guard Jon Diebler, who lost his starting spot to Turner following the team's loss to Butler. Entering the game just 9 of 49 (18.4 percent) from beyond the arc, Diebler hit all five of his second-half threes, helping to keep CSU from getting back into the game.
He also hit what might have been the back-breaker for the Vikings. Having cut the score to 63-49 with 6:25 left, the Buckeyes worked the ball around before senior forward Othello Hunter found Diebler with about four seconds left on the shot clock. He buried the shot, pushing the lead back to 17 and ending CSU's 10-0 run.
"It was a good pass by O," Diebler said. "He found the open guy and it just happened to be me that time. I think we just made the extra pass tonight, and that's what got us open shots."
It all added up to be just too much for the Vikings, who last defeated the Buckeyes in 1994 also at Quicken Loans Arena – then known as Gund Arena. Overall, CSU drops to 5-26 in contests against the Big Ten.
"There's not much you can say," CSU head coach Gary Waters said. "It's pretty obvious what you saw out there. They did a good job defensively. That was one of my concerns going into the game. If you hit shots against that zone, you've got a chance to do well against them."
It was a balanced scoring attack for the Buckeyes. Five players had double-digit scoring totals, led by Diebler's 17 points off the bench. Classmate Kosta Koufos had 16, while Hunter added 14. CSU had just one player in double digits: Junior forward J'Nathan Bullock had 16 points but was just 4 of 10 from the floor.
As a team, the Buckeyes were 12 of 22 from beyond the arc. Waters said the plan coming into the game was to let them shoot from deep because he felt they had not proven they could do so effectively for an entire game.
Following the game, he had changed his mind.
"We're doubling the post and they moved the ball fairly well and that allowed open guys to get open shots," Waters said. "That wasn't the problem. We set that up. Diebler, how many threes has he hit in the last eight games? I'm going to let him shoot every time too, and he hit them today. My hat's off to him.
"We want them to shoot those threes because if they're inside posting up and scoring on us, it puts us at a big issue. They hit their shots."
In the first half, OSU turned the ball over 11 times to 10 for CSU but was bailed out by its shooting beyond the arc. The Buckeyes were 5 for 11 (45.5 percent) from deep and were led by Lighty, who was perfect on three attempts.
Both teams headed into the locker room with the Buckeyes leading 35-25. That total was largely aided by the fact that the Vikings shot just 29.0 percent (9 of 31) from the floor while OSU was 13 of 28 (46.5 percent). The Buckeyes preserved their multiple-possession lead despite Butler picking up his second foul with 5:18 remaining and being relegated to the bench for the duration of the half.
In his stead, sophomore guard P.J. Hill ran the point and had one turnover.
For the game, the Buckeyes were outrebounded 36-35. Half of CSU's boards came on the offensive end.
"I'm going to change our identity: We need to be a better rebounding team," Matta said.