New year, new team, new result. The official public unveiling of the 2008-09 Buckeye men's basketball team saw it hand visiting NAIA Division II foe North Canton (Ohio) Walsh a 90-63 defeat in the team's lone exhibition game of the season.
"The one thing I really liked was I thought they played as a team and everybody seemed to be on the same page," OSU head coach Thad Matta said. "That's one of the big things we've stressed."
Unlike last year's loss to Findlay (Ohio), the final outcome of this one was never really in doubt. The Buckeyes trailed for just 44 seconds early in the first half and used a deep bench to pull away from the Cavaliers.
OSU was without sophomore power forward Dallas Lauderdale and forward Nikola Kecman, the former due to injury and the latter due to NCAA suspension. Although Kecman was eligible to play because it was an exhibition game, Matta opted to rest him. With the duo sidelined, Matta rotated nine players through his line up in the first half alone.
Without Lauderdale, the Buckeyes played with a small lineup for nearly the entire game. Four guards complimented either freshman B.J. Mullens or junior Kyle Madsen on the wings, with David Lighty logging minutes at the power forward spot.
Mullens, an early favorite to be the No. 1 pick in this year's NBA Draft, finished with 12 points and four rebounds in 22 minutes of action. He was one of five Buckeyes to finish with double-digit scoring totals.
"It was a great feeling, being from Columbus," Mullens said of making his debut. "I had all these fans on my back, but all the other guys did too. Being raised in Columbus and playing in Columbus, it's a great feeling."
The 7-0 Mullens showed flashes of potential but also looked like a freshman at times. After a pass hit him in the face for a turnover late in the second half, Mullens raced to the other end and came up with a steal that keyed a fast break the other way.
Among the freshmen, guard William Buford led the way with 17 points off the bench – 15 of which came in the second half – to tie sophomore Evan Turner for the team lead. Lighty added 12, while Madsen had 11 along with eight rebounds. Turner led the team with nine boards.
Most important for Turner, he finished with four assists and just one turnover.
"I thought Evan did a pretty good job," Matta said. "He was active, he was smelling the ball out, he did a good job of rebounding the ball. We thought we could get some offensive put-backs and to his credit he found the area."
Walsh eked out an early 6-4 lead, but the Buckeyes countered with a 19-4 run to open up a 23-10 lead at the 10:32 mark of the first half. From there, the home team held a comfortable lead for the duration.
The visiting Cavaliers, playing in uniforms identical to those of the NBA's Cleveland franchise had they been left in the sun for a few days, kept pace in the first half almost exclusively because of their ability to shoot from beyond the arc. As a team, Walsh was 6 of 12 from three-point range in the first 20 minutes. OSU, in contrast, was 3 for 11 during the same stretch and connected on one of its first seven treys.
The Buckeyes countered with a liberal dose of Turner, who showed the explosive ability to get to the basket he displayed last season. In the first half, the sophomore had 13 points, eight rebounds and three steals – all half-highs. It added up to a 45-32 Buckeye lead at the midway point.
For the game, Walsh went 8 for 18 from beyond the arc while OSU was 6 for 19 (31.6 percent). The Buckeyes stayed in 1-2-2 zone for the entire game.
In the first game without former Buckeye Jamar Butler running the point, Matta turned to sophomore Jeremie Simmons and Anthony Crater to man the position. Simmons earned the start and had seven points and three assists against one turnover in 21 minutes, while Crater added eight points and six assists against no turnovers in 17 minutes.
"It's all love, but it's a lot of competition," Simmons said of the between the two. "Noopy more of a pure point guard, I'm more of a scoring guard. We are going to play at the same time."
The game marked the first official unveiling of a number of new faces on the OSU roster. Five scholarship players saw their first action. The lone available scholarship player to not see first-half action was junior point guard P.J. Hill, who was inserted into the game with 2:42 left in the game. By that point, OSU led 90-58 and fans were streaming for the exits.
Walsh head coach Jeff Young said he was impressed with OSU's freshmen.
"They wouldn't be at Ohio State if they couldn't play," he said. "At any given night any of these guys could go for 15 or 20."
The game was not televised but could be viewed on the Big Ten Network's website. As a result, customary media timeouts were shorter and led to an overall shorter game.