COLUMBUS — If the rest of the starts by Shannon Scott and LaQuinton Ross go like the first one, No. 11 Ohio State won’t have any problem having a superlative season.
Scott scored a career-high 16 points and Ross, also starting for the first time as a junior, had 14 points and a personal-best 11 rebounds to lead the Buckeyes past Morgan State 89-50 on Saturday.
Asked which career high most pleased him, coach Thad Matta refused to choose.
“Quite honestly, both. For Shannon, him seeing the ball go through the basket, you see that hard work pay off that obviously gives you that boost of confidence,” Matta said.
“For LaQuinton, we knew we were losing a great rebounder in Deshaun (Thomas). That’s one of the things we’ve questioned about this team — where’s the rebounding going to come from? He did a very nice job of rebounding out of his area.
“We’re going to need that from him.”
Lenzelle Smith Jr. led the way with 18 points and spurred a first-half spurt for the Buckeyes, who improved to 93-18 in home openers and 89-22 in season debuts.
Much of the drama vanished early after Ohio State scored the first eight points and built a 26-point halftime lead.
Sam Thompson added 14 points and freshman Marc Loving had 10 for Ohio State. Scott had seven assists to go with his 16 points, while Ross registered his first career double-double.
“(That balance) makes it really hard for our team to be guarded,” said Scott, the son of legendary North Carolina and NBA star Charlie Scott. “They really can’t focus in on one player. Everybody on the court is capable of scoring now.”
The Buckeyes are coming off a 29-8 season in which they tied for second in the Big Ten with a 13-5 record.
Ohio State returns four starters: Amir Williams, Aaron Craft, Smith and Thompson. Ross, who blossomed in the NCAA Tournament last year as a reserve, is expected to step into the spot vacated by the early departure of Thomas, last year’s Big Ten scoring leader.
For him to also do the job on the boards was a double-bonus.
“We’ve been working on rebounding a lot in practices, just because our team is really not that big,” said the 6-foot-8 Ross, a wing or even a big guard on offense. “You see we’ve got one 6-10 guy (Williams) and the rest of our guys are perimeter players. We’ve definitely been working on everybody pitching in and getting rebounds. It’s something I just did tonight.”
Just as he had in a 93-63 exhibition victory over Walsh last Sunday, Matta brought Thompson off the bench and inserted Scott into the starting lineup. The combination of the quick Scott and physical Craft gives the Buckeyes one of the best pairings of defensive guards in the country.
Plus, Thompson provided a lift off the bench.
Morgan State, coming off a 17-15 overall record and a 10-6 mark in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, won eight of its last nine games last season under eighth-year coach Todd Bozeman, formerly at California.
But the Bears had difficulty matching up with Ohio State. Justin Black had 13 points, Ian Chiles 12 and Anthony Hubbard 11 for Morgan State, which was meeting the Buckeyes for the first time.
“We knew obviously coming into the game that with them being ranked they would be a tough opponent,” Bozeman said. “Then Scott got it going right out of the box making threes and that kind of loosens things up.”
Scott hit three 3-pointers — a career high for a game — in the first 2:05 to power an 11-2 lead.
Ohio State overcame some expected rough patches. At times, there was a disconnect on offense as the Buckeyes try to figure out who will take the shots and score the points provided by Thomas, who left after his junior year for the NBA Draft.
They did not hit a field goal for four and a half minutes during one stretch — then came back to reel off seven points in 90 seconds.
Down just 29-19 after a three by Blake Bozeman, the coach’s son, at the 6:41 mark, things spiraled out of control for the Bears as the Buckeyes went on a 16-0 run.
Smith hit two threes and added a layup for eight points, with backup center Trey McDonald adding four points in the surge, which finally ended with 46 seconds left when Dontre Pretlow hit a three for Morgan State.
“That is just our brand of basketball, five guys being connected out there,” Smith said. “Our defense is what turns our offense to being so good. We come down, we get a stop, it ignites us.”
It was a starting point for the Buckeyes.
“It’s the first game of the year, we’ve got a long season ahead and we’re going to continue doing what we did tonight,” Ross said.
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No. 11 Ohio State 89, Morgan State 50
MORGAN STATE (0-1): Blossom 1-8 1-2 3, Chiles 5-6 2-4 12, Black 6-19 1-4 13, Hubbard 5-12 0-0 11, Bozeman 1-7 3-4 6, Pretlow 1-8 0-0 2, Simpson 0-2 0-0 0, Matey 1-3 0-1 3, Thomas 0-0 0-0 0, Manning 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-65 7-15 50.
OHIO STATE (1-0): Ross 5-14 3-3 14, Smith Jr. 7-11 0-0 18, A. Williams 1-2 2-2 4, Scott 5-8 2-2 16, Craft 1-5 3-3 5, Loving 3-7 4-5 10, Thompson 6-9 0-1 14, Della Valle 1-4 0-1 2, Lorbach 0-2 0-1 0, McDonald 2-3 2-4 6. Totals 31-65 16-22 89.
Halftime—Ohio State 49-23. 3-Point Goals—Morgan St. 3-18 (Matey 1-2, Hubbard 1-2, Bozeman 1-5, Simpson 0-1, Pretlow 0-2, Black 0-6), Ohio State 11-25 (Smith Jr. 4-6, Scott 4-7, Thompson 2-3, Ross 1-5, Loving 0-1, Della Valle 0-1, Craft 0-2). Fouled Out—A. Williams. Rebounds—Morgan St. 34 (Blossom 7), Ohio State 55 (Ross 11). Assists—Morgan St. 7 (Pretlow 3), Ohio State 18 (Scott 7). Total Fouls—Morgan St. 22, Ohio State 16. A—16,777.