COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Late in the first half, with his team trying but failing to create any opportunities, Ohio State coach Thad Matta called a timeout.
“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 of 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 on Friday night against Marquette in Charleston, S.C., aboard the USS Yorktown, but condensation on the court led to that game being canceled.
“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 5 of 7 3-pointers for a career-high 20 points to go with seven assists.
Asked 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 3s 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.
Over the last 4:46 of the half during the Ohio State run, the Buckeyes hit 6 of 8 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 3s 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 contest was a first-round game in the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament.