DAYTON, Ohio – Above and across the bracket from Ohio State, some of college basketball’s name programs have been falling.
Friday night, the Buckeyes were too busy soaring to even have to fret about being next.
With No. 15 seed Iona knowing just one speed and determined to keep the game a race it couldn’t win, the locked-in, No. 2 seed Buckeyes extended their win streak to nine and most importantly made it 1-0 in the NCAA tournament in a 95-70 runaway.
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A bunch of high-flying dunks — four of them by Sam Thompson — and the usual hustle plays by Aaron Craft provided the highlights. Eleven Ohio State players scored, four in double figures, and save for one Iona surge in the final five minutes of the first half, Ohio State cruised.
“We ran into a buzz saw,” Iona coach Tim Cluess said, and no one would argue.
Deshaun Thomas led everybody with 24 points, and Thompson had 20 points and 10 rebounds for his first career double-double.
His first alley-oop dunk, one that capped a 15-0 surge early in the game, was a product of the easy opportunities and emphatic finishes the Buckeyes got all night. His second also came from Shannon Scott, when Thompson darted from the baseline and turned what looked to be a high lob into a highlight.
Friday night’s game is likely to be the last easy one for Ohio State, and though the Buckeyes are clearly peaking at the right time, they’re one slip from being done. Sunday’s game vs. No. 10 seed and extremely athletic Iowa State will bring a much more formidable challenge than Iona presented.
But Thompson’s big night isn’t just big for his own confidence and progress; it’s further evidence that whatever buttons Ohio State coach Thad Matta has been pressing over the last five weeks have been the right ones. The two-point guard lineup continues to spark Ohio State’s defense and make the offense run smoothly. The Buckeyes aren’t a great shooting team and aren’t going to be, but they’re getting good shots.
Those crazy dunks are just bonus.
“It would be easier,” Craft joked, “if Sam could jump a little higher.”
Craft had four points, seven assists and six steals, which is his kind of stat line. Scott had seven points, seven rebounds and equaled a career-high with 10 assists. Iona didn’t have the muscle or depth to counter anything Ohio State did, at least with any consistency, but no Buckeye opponent has been able to match the pace Craft and Scott have been able to create.
On a night when so many Ohio State players scored so much — and so often — it’s almost like Thomas’s 24 were quiet. Craft needed only 4. The Buckeyes poured it on but did it crisply, shooting 7 of 15 on 3-point tries, getting 25 assists on 34 baskets and winning the turnover battle 19-10.
If there’s a bracket that, two days in, looks wide open, it’s certainly the West. If there’s a team besides Louisville that appears to be going full throttle, it’s Ohio State.
“I don’t know, in this tournament, if you could say anybody has a hot hand,” Matta said. “I think, if you’re in a conference race and you’ve got common opponents, you know going into the game that what the other team is. But not now.
“We’re sitting here right now, and I don’t know who we’re going to play next. I like the way our team is playing. I like the fact that we’re winning games right now. We’ve got to be better (Sunday) than we were today.”