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November 25, 2013

With pivotal rally, Ohio State holds off Wyoming

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Wyoming trekked 1,300 miles east and gave Ohio State everything just about everything it could handle.

The seventh-ranked Buckeyes, though, would ultimately find their footing in an otherwise uncharacteristically sloppy defensive effort against the Cowboys, winning 65-50, Monday evening in front of a sleepy, somewhat sparse Schottenstein Center crowd.

Despite trailing 43-41 with under 14 minutes to play, Thad Matta's crew employed a pivotal rally midway through the second half to kindle a 22-7 run.

"I thought the adjustments in the second half, the last 15 minutes defensively we were probably as good as defensively as we could be in terms of just keeping guys in front of us," said the Ohio State coach.

"The switching, moving Sam (Thompson) in there we really allowed us to keep guys in front of us and his ability to block shots, Amir (Williams) was down there challenging shots and we had better rotations when that happened. We were able to get out and get some easy baskets that were hard to come by via our defense."

Such defense was so good that it held the Cowboys -- which shot 56 percent from the floor in the first half -- to just four field goals in the second and none in the final 10 minutes of play.

"I think it was do or die in terms of how they were scoring on us and challenging the guys to say hey we gotta lock down," Matta said.

Engineering such a comeback was largely senior guard Aaron Craft, who scored all 10 of his points after intermission.

"I thought Aaron really kind of took things over there went to him down the stretch and he was as good as he could be," Matta said.

But it was Lenzelle Smith Jr. -- who led all scorers with 20 points and buried five-of-eight tries from behind the arc -- that might've been the difference for an Ohio State team that connected on 41 percent of its shots.

"I thought that Ohio State played really well in the second half, got a chance to watch them play, big fan in the background, very big fan of Thad and his staff and I thought that Lenzelle was the difference in the game because, as a couple of other players have been struggling from the perimeter, I thought he was a big difference," said Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt.

"And then the blocked shots in the second half. I respect our ball club that they were attacking the rack but they sent about seven or eight of those blocks and they turned those into some points which they were not allowed -- or not able to do -- the first half."

While the Buckeyes led, 38-34, at the break, the Cowboys -- largely behind the play of junior forward Larry Nance Jr. -- held a 24-16 advantage in the paint.

Such production would carry over into the early portion of the second half.

Nance Jr., an Akron, Ohio, native and son of Cleveland Cavaliers legend Larry Nance, scored 17 points in what was a homecoming of sorts Monday.

"It was really cool to get back home, obviously that's kinda like a dream come true playing on this court but I was really proud of the way our team played today, handled ourselves and great game by Ohio State," he said.

And while Matta and company, admittedly, said they aren't playing at the level they'll need to come Big Ten season, it seems the Buckeyes are taking the necessary steps to attain such a feat.

"The fact that you get down in the second half and you gotta lock down and you gotta get tough and you gotta make plays defensively and that was definitely a step in the right direction," Matts said.

"We had some great mental plays, we had some great extra ordinary plays with effort and those are the things you hope you can build on moving forward."

Ohio State is set to play North Florida Friday at 5 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.



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