The Buckeyes took on their next opponent in the Gotham Classic this evening, the surprisingly dangerous North Dakota State Bison. Coming off a win at Notre Dame, the Bison were hoping to pick up another high quality win against the Buckeyes. The Buckeyes, however, weren’t having any of that, picking up a dominating 79-62 win. Four Buckeyes ended up in double figures: LaQuinton Ross with 18, Lenzelle Smith Jr. with 18, and Sam Thompson and Marc Loving off the bench with 12 a piece. NDSU responded with 21 from Taylor Braun, 12 from Marshall Bjorklund, and 10 from Lawrence Alexander.
The game began with both sides trying to show off their long range sniping game. Lenzelle Smith starting things off by sinking the first three of the game, eventually following it up with a second after a third by Laquinton Ross. NDSU struggled to maintain control of the rock inside the paint, committing several costly traveling fouls. They then responded by shooting from deep, picking up a single triple to get on the board three minutes after the start of the game.
The OSU shooting started from range due to the NDSU defensive strategy. The Bison used a 2-3 zone, or an usual looking box-and-1, to try to keep the Buckeyes from utilizing Amir Williams inside. After getting killed from long range through the first four minutes, they quickly shifted to a help-side man defense look. The change allowed them to continue to suppress Amir Williams inside, but kept OSU from getting the easy open outside looks.
The pace began to pick up as the Buckeyes defense started to kick up the intensity. For a short period, OSU looked like they were going to run away with the game, scoring another Slam Thompson entry pass ally-oop, and a sweet Lenzelle Smith fast break layup assisted by Aaron Craft. However, NDSU rose to the challenge and sank a three to cut the lead to five. The Bison cranked up their own defensive energy to counter the Buckeyes and began to force a few turnovers from the typically stingy OSU guards.
Thad Matta chose to operate with a linechange coming out of the after-12 timeout. Running with Scott, Della Valle, Thompson, Loving, and McDonald, the Buckeyes continued to maintain the intensity, but struggled to find scoring. Defense with that lineup seemed to struggle a little as well, but was by no mean poor. During the run, NDSU attempted to regain control of the pace of the game, a task in which they eventually succeeded. Rather than rushing their offense, they paced themselves and took what was available.
The Bison managed to keep the game close late into the first half by finding a clever way to attack the stiff OSU defense. The Bucks have a tendency to over commit on the first shot, putting them out of position on the rebound. By bringing a perimeter player into the paint from the far side of the shot, the Bison were able to either collect the cheap rebound and putback, or had an easy feed for two after the rebound.
By playing smart ball and attacking the paint, the Buckeyes began to open the gap in the score again. Soon, they possessed their largest lead of the game at 12 after Amir Williams finally found his first bucket of the game. But it wasn’t to last long when NDSU worked the OSU defense for an entire possession to earn themselves a wide open look for three to cut the lead back to single digits. In the blink of an eye, the Bison cut the lead down to five with scant minutes left in the first half.
Until LaQuinton Ross dropped another pair of threes to bring the game back to nine. NDSU refused to back down, but had suddenly found themselves facing the fast-paced hot-shooting of Ohio State’s offense on a roll. Despite everything the Bison had done in the half to that point, the Bucks were taking it back by force. Sam Thompson capped the whole thing off with a three pointer and a foul with 1.7 seconds left on the clock in the half. He missed the free throw, but that didn’t take any of the sting out of the dagger going into the locker room.
The Buckeyes came out of the locker room and began to assert themselves in a big way. Aaron Craft started things off by taking sole possession of the OSU career assist record with a great pass into the paint for LaQuiton Ross. Then, Lenzelle Smith dropped another triple closely followed by a very Crafty layup to really put the pressure on NDSU. Coupled with the rebounding, which the Buckeyes were finally dominating, the Bison were struggling to keep their heads above water.
But just because they were struggling, didn’t mean they weren’t managing to tread water. Despite being down 19, the Bison were able to fight back to within 14 with a few excellent plays on both sides of the court. Unfortunately, a great attempt at a stolen pass for the Bison turned into an OSU fast break that caused Bjorklund to commit a foul on Sam Thompson that was later ruled flagrant. Sam Thompson made the Bison pay for that, hitting both free throws, and then dropping the huge Thomahawk (you read that right) dunk on the ensuing possession. Things got out of hand when Marc Loving dropped his second straight three pointer to give the Bucks their largest lead of the game to that point at 22 with only 8 and a half left in the game.
This Buckeyes defense has definitely grown into a terrifying monster. It is rated as the top adjusted defense in the country on Kenpom’s statistics allowing only 86.7 points per 100 possessions – roughly 3.5 points lower than the second rated team. They also suppressed a great scoring team well under their 79 points per game average. It’ll be interesting to see how this defense performs once Big Ten play starts, but so far they are smothering their opponents in unbelievable fashion.
Despite finding themselves down 25 with less than 5 minutes to play, North Dakota State wasn’t going away. The Bison attacked the paint, forcing several fouls on the Buckeye bigs in the waning moments of the half. The Bucks weren’t going to let things slip away that easily however. A few quick adjustments was all it took to end any chance of a late Bison run.
The Buckeyes finished their night shooting 52.9% (27-51) from the floor, and 50% (10-20) from three. This was the fifth straight game for the Buckeyes shooting more than 50% from the floor, the first time that’s happened in 9 years. NDSU responded with a 41.2% (21-51) shooting night from the floor, and 25% (4-16) from three. OSU also won the rebounding battle 36-26, the first game this season they’ve won conclusively in that catagory. The Buckeyes also lead 16-7 in assists.
The Buckeyes will next face the Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens in Value City Arena on Wednesday, December 18th. You’ll be able to see that game on the Big Ten Network at 8:00 PM Eastern time.