No. 5 Ohio State prepares for CCSU on Saturday
Ohio State’s success largely has been predicated on defensive prowess, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its share of offensive weapons.
The fifth-ranked Buckeyes look to continue their solid start when they host Central Connecticut State on Saturday.
With defense-first senior point guard Aaron Craft as the catalyst, Ohio State (7-0) ranks third in the nation in points allowed at 54.3 per game and sixth in defensive field-goal percentage at 35.9.
The Buckeyes lead the Big Ten in both categories while giving up fewer than 70 points in each contest, including holding then-No. 17 Marquette to 35 on Nov. 16.
Craft, who tops the conference in steals at 2.9 per game and is a three-time Big Ten All-Defensive team honoree, had five steals while adding 10 points and six assists in Wednesday’s 76-60 victory over Maryland in the ACC/Big Ten challenge.
The Buckeyes held the Terrapins to 39.1 percent shooting while hitting 52.1 percent of their shots, prompting coach Thad Matta to express his happiness with the team’s effort.
“He gets excited. He is our biggest fan when that happens,” Craft said. “He is the first guy coming into the locker room clapping and getting us excited. After a game when we are thinking of the things we did wrong, he comes in clapping and telling us it’s a great team and we have to find a way to build off this.”
Though Ohio State’s defense has received most of the recognition, the offense has come around lately. After shooting 41.8 percent through their first five games, the Buckeyes hit 69.2 percent in a 99-64 win over North Florida before Wednesday’s solid performance.
LaQuinton Ross totaled 37 points in the last two games after averaging 6.2 through the first five. Ross hit a career-high four 3-pointers for the second straight game Wednesday, Sam Thompson came off the bench to add 14 points and Lenzelle Smith Jr. scored in double figures for a third consecutive game.
“We shot the ball well last game and we wanted to build off it,” Craft said. “We just wanted to come with our minds right. Obviously, LaQuinton helped out a lot coming in and knocking down those early shots. That kind of relaxes everybody else and gets them going.”
Matta is 139-2 at home against unranked opponents since taking the Ohio State job in 2004. The Buckeyes’ 73-game home streak against such foes doesn’t appear to be in much jeopardy against a Central Connecticut State team that ranks among the worst in the nation in field-goal shooting at 40.1 percent.
The Blue Devils (2-5) of the Northeast Conference overcame 36.2 percent shooting Wednesday to beat New Hampshire 65-56, as senior guard Matt Hunter had a game-high 13 points.
Leading scorer Kyle Vinales, who threatened to transfer in April before returning, didn’t start for the first time in 65 career games despite entering averaging 22.0 points. He played 29 minutes off the bench, hitting 2 of 8 from the field and scoring six points.
Coach Howie Dickenman’s decision was thought to be performance-based, as Vinales is shooting just 35.5 percent. It’s unclear if the junior guard will be back in the starting lineup for this contest.
CCSU had a much better defensive effort Wednesday, though, as it came in allowing 86.2 points per game.
Ohio State won the last meeting 78-57 in the first round of the 2007 NCAA tournament.