COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — LaQuinton Ross scored four of his career-high 23 points in a 10-0 second-half run, leading No. 5 Ohio State past Central Connecticut State 74-56 on Saturday night.
Lenzelle Smith Jr. added 17 points and Amir Williams had 11 for the Buckeyes (8-0), who finally pulled away midway through the second half.
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Faronte Drakeford led the Blue Devils (2-6) with 12 points and Matt Mobley added 10. The Blue Devils created problems for Ohio State with their zone defense and pass-and-cut offense that often resulted in layups.
A crowd of 13,640 was as reserved as the Buckeyes most of the game. Maybe it was the lack of students, a mid-level opponent, the frosty weather outside or Ohio State’s impending Big Ten football championship game on Saturday night, but there were long stretches when the crowd was relatively quiet.
The Buckeyes won the only previous meeting between the teams in the first round of the 2007 NCAA tournament. The top-ranked Buckeyes, behind Greg Oden’s 19 points and 10 rebounds, beat the Blue Devils 78-57. Ohio State would advance to the national championship game where it lost to defending champion Florida.
Ahead 38-29 at the break, the Buckeyes had difficulty finishing off the pesky Blue Devils.
The lead hovered around 10 points until Ohio State broke free from a 49-41 lead with a quick run. It started with a steal by Amedeo Della Valle which led to Smith’s slam dunk. After a CCSU miss, Sam Thompson hit a baseline jumper and, following a Blue Devils turnover, Craft fought through the traffic in the lane for a spinning layup that made it 55-41 — matching Ohio State’s biggest lead to that point.
Soon after, the Buckeyes forced a shot-clock violation and Ross muscled inside for a bucket. He then stole the ball near midcourt and drove coast to coast for another layup and an 18-point lead.
The Blue Devils never seriously threatened again.
The first half likely won’t show up in the Buckeyes’ season highlight film.
They broke out to a 13-2 lead in the opening 4 minutes but never really shifted into overdrive.
For the third game in a row, Ross came out hot. He hit a perimeter shot and then closed the early spurt with a three-point play after driving the heart of the lane for a layup and the foul.
Ohio State still led 22-8 when the Blue Devils ran off six points in a row — all on layups or by passing down low to teammates making cuts.
CCSU put together a 15-6 run to get as close as 28-23 on Khale Cumberlander’s backdoor bucket off a nice pass by a driving Matt Hunter.
The Buckeyes responded by scoring the next eight points, built around a four-point play. Shannon Scott was fouled and hit the first free throw before Ross reached high to pull away the rebound from a Blue Devil, then scored and was fouled.
But CCSU scored six of the final eight points of the half, including Kyle Vinales’ layup in the final second that cut it to 38-29 at the break.
It wasn’t the first time the Blue Devils had an impressive showing in a Big Ten arena.
They played at then-No. 1 Indiana a year ago, losing 100-69 on Dec. 8, 2012, in a game in which Hunter scored 40 points to set an Assembly Hall record for an opposing player.
He came into the Ohio State game averaging 9.3 points a game, finishing with nine.
The Buckeyes are 9-0 against teams from the Northeast Conference. Their next game is against another NEC member, Bryant, on Wednesday at Value City Arena.