“I saw Thad jump off the bench and it looked like he had a 40-inch vertical,” Albany coach Will Brown said. “I saw how animated he was. That timeout, obviously, I think that lit a fire under them.”
Deshaun Thomas scored 13 of his 19 points in what turned out to be a 17-2 run to end the half, leading No. 4 Ohio State to an 82-60 victory over the Great Danes on Sunday in the Buckeyes’ belated season opener.
The Buckeyes were supposed to play Friday night against Marquette in Charleston, S.C., aboard the USS Yorktown, but condensation on the court canceled the game.
“When they announced we weren’t going to play I looked at some of the crowd and some of the faces and I felt so bad that we didn’t get to play,” said Lenzelle Smith Jr., who added 18 points. “They go to war for us every day. I was thinking the least we could do was play a game for them.”
Instead, the Buckeyes channeled their desire to play into their next game.
“They were itching to play,” Matta said.
Thomas, one of the stars of the Buckeyes’ Final Four run last season, hit just one of his first seven shots and Ohio State trailed 23-22 late in half. But he asserted himself as the Buckeyes took control.
Matta’s angry timeout talk ignited the Buckeyes.
“He just told us to play hard,” said Thomas, a junior who had contemplated jumping to the NBA before electing to return to Ohio State. “He said, ‘Don’t let up.’ As a team we just kept saying, ‘Boost it up. Let’s get (the lead) to 30.’”
Aaron Craft, considered an outside-shooting liability a year ago, hit five of seven 3-pointers for a career-high 20 points to go with seven assists.
Asked if he was now the Buckeyes’ go-to guy on perimeter shooting, Craft cracked, “Could you say that again, please?” Nodding to Thomas and Smith, he added, “These guys didn’t hear you.”
Craft spent untold hours working on his shot for several months. It paid off in more confidence, not only for him but also by his teammates in Craft’s shooting.
“Teammates have to trust me to shoot the ball as well, too,” he said. “So throughout this summer and fall, I was trying to get their confidence in me as well. They did a good job of finding me. You get a lot of open shots when guys are driving and kicking (out passes). It’s not too difficult to knock down wide-open shots when you’ve got great players around you.”
Smith was 8-of-11 from the field, making both threes he attempted.
The Buckeyes shot 57 percent from the field (32-of-56) and made 12 of 20 shots behind the arc.
Smith gave Ohio State a 39-25 lead at the halftime buzzer by swishing a 3-pointer from the right wing off a pass from Craft.
During their run over the last 4:46 of the half, the Buckeyes hit six of eight shots from the field to Albany’s 0-for-4, didn’t have a turnover and outrebounded the Great Danes 6-2.
Ohio State then opened the second half by scoring eight of the first 10 points to take a 20-point lead.
Craft and Ross hit threes to make it 55-33. The lead hovered around 20 the rest of the game.
Matta conceded that his timeout might have turned the game around.
“It definitely sparked a run,” he said, adding that he was unhappy with how the Buckeyes were handling adversity on the court. “Our team’s not good enough to let one negative compound to another negative. I kind of got into them and said, ‘Hey, let’s go.’”
The game was a first-round matchup in the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament.
Mike Black had 20 and Jacob Iati 13 for Albany (1-1).
Brown was asked if he would’ve liked the Buckeyes to have played Friday night.
“I wish they would have played, and that that game would have gone, like, five overtimes,” he said.
- WHO: No. 4 Ohio State vs. Rhode Island
- WHAT: Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament
- WHEN: Saturday, 5 p.m.
- WHERE: Uncasville, Conn.
- TV/RADIO: No TV (ESPN3, internet); WEOL 930-AM, WKRN 850-AM