Yes, the Ohio State Buckeyes put the loss to Duke behind them. At the same time, coach Thad Matta knows his team has to make a lot of headway before beginning play in the rough Big Ten.
LaQuinton Ross scored a career-high 22 points to lead the cold-shooting, fourth-ranked Buckeyes to a 70-43 victory over Northern Kentucky on Saturday.
“The number one thing I wanted to see is if we would get up off the mat and have a little fight to us,” he said of the Buckeyes bouncing back from Wednesday night’s loss at Cameron Indoor against the second-ranked Blue Devils. “I don’t think we were as effective that way as I wanted to be.”
The Buckeyes, who blew a second-half lead to fall 73-68 at Duke in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, didn’t shoot well again against the Norse.
“Our whole motto, really since Thursday morning, was that we had gotten punched in the mouth,” said starting wing Sam Thompson, who scored 10 points Saturday. “Coach Matta was really big these past few days on seeing how we would respond. He definitely wanted to see a toughness element out of us, see us play hard, and he wanted to see us leave the Duke game in the past.”
That loss might be forgotten but some concerns of Ohio State (5-1) from that game still linger.
The Buckeyes shot just 38 percent from the field against Northern Kentucky (0-5) after making 32.3 percent of their shots against Duke. They again got little production out of their big men, barely outrebounding (43-41) a smaller, less seasoned front line of the Norse.
But they did force 20 turnovers, which led to 22 points.
“We didn’t come out putting it in the hole,” said the team’s top scorer, Deshaun Thomas, who ended up with 14 points. “But, you know, it’s us staying together and preparing in practice and shooting the ball well.”
Ross covered up for the thin spots in Ohio State’s game.
The sophomore wing hit 8 of 12 shots from the field, including half of his six attempts behind the arc, along with all three free throws. The rest of the Buckeyes made just 15 of 49 (.306) shots from the field.
“Coach Matta told us from the beginning of the year, he’s not going to do like he did in the past. Everybody knows that he would get that group of guys that he trusts, like six or eight guys, and those are the guys he played,” said Ross, who seldom played a year ago because of his defensive indifference. “But this year he told us there was going to be a lot of in and out, like he was going to be switching in guys and putting them in different positions to see what they can do.”
Ross is splitting time with Thompson, a much better defensive player. But if Ross is able to spot up and shoot well, that adds a dimension the Buckeyes are sorely lacking. Aaron Craft (2 for 9) and Lenzelle Smith Jr. (also 2 for 9 from the field) struggled, adding to the impact of Ross’ performance.
“It’s important for a guy like Q to come in and step up,” Thomas said. “It’s a big key to this team.”
Northern Kentucky chose to crowd players around Thomas, who came in averaging 22.4 points, and force the Buckeyes to hit outside shots. Ross obliged.
“We kind of figured somebody was going to make shots — we didn’t know which one — but to his credit he stepped up and made them,” Norse coach Dave Bezold said. “We knew we were going to give some open looks.”
Jalen Billups had 11 points for Northern Kentucky, in its first year in Division I. The Norse haven’t beaten a Division I team in a regular-season game since a 66-64 win over Tennessee State on Jan. 14, 1984.
The lead remained around 20 points throughout the second half.
Ross, averaging 6.8 points a game, already had surpassed his career high of 11 with 13 first-half points.
Ohio State struggled to pull away from the Norse through the first 13 minutes. But the Buckeyes built on a 22-16 lead with a 12-0 run.
Thomas started it with two free throws, and Smith hit a 3 before Thompson added two foul shots. Craft was credited with the basket on a goaltending call before Ross ended the surge with a 3 from the right wing.
“My coaches really pushed me in practice and told me to shoot the ball, to have my feet ready,” Ross said. “I just got the opportunity and I had to take advantage of it.”