Ohio St.-Rhode Island Preview
With a game finally under its belt, Ohio State has something to build on heading into a busy weekend.
The fourth-ranked Buckeyes look to keep Rhode Island winless Saturday when they open play at the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut.
After its scheduled Nov. 9 opener against Marquette aboard the USS Yorktown in South Carolina was canceled because of condensation on the court, Ohio State finally took the court Sunday and looked a little rusty early against Albany at home. The Buckeyes trailed by a point late in the first half when coach Thad Matta emphatically called a timeout, which was followed by a 17-2 run that led to an 82-60 win over the Great Danes.
"The guys were itching to play a game," Matta said. "Obviously they were more ready against Marquette, but things didn't work out."
Despite the slow start, the Buckeyes shot 57.1 percent, including 12 of 20 from 3-point range. Aaron Craft scored a career-high 20 points with seven assists while preseason All-American Deshaun Thomas scored 13 of his 19 during what proved to be the game-changing run.
Craft, who spent several months working on his shot after shooting 35.9 percent from 3-point range last season, made 5 of 7 from beyond the arc.
"Teammates have to trust me to shoot the ball as well, too," said Craft, who is already considered an elite defensive player. "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."
The Buckeyes, who reached the Final Four last season thanks in part to a defense that limited opponents to 40.7 percent shooting overall and 32.5 from 3-point range, held Albany to 35.6 percent from field. The Great Danes went 6 of 22 from long range.
"Craft is going to be an NBA player for the next 10 years," Albany coach Will Brown said. "He's the best defensive guard in the country."
Ohio State could be in for another big defensive effort Saturday against a Rhode Island squad that has shot 31.3 percent while losing its first two games under first-year coach Dan Hurley. The Rams missed all but one of their 21 3-point attempts during a 69-50 loss at Virginia Tech on Monday.
The Buckeyes are facing Rhode Island for the first time in the semifinals of this event. The winner will face either Seton Hall or Washington in Sunday's championship game.
Forward Nikola Malesevic and guard Xavier Munford are averaging 16.0 points apiece for the Rams, who have lost 23 straight games against Top 25 opponents dating to a 70-63 victory over No. 21 Utah on Dec. 2, 1998.