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November 29, 2013

Buckeyes bury North Florida

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- After a passable, but hardly dominating outing against Wyoming, Ohio State coach Thad Matta made a promise.

"We're going to get LaQuinton Ross to play better basketball," he said following his team's 65-50 win Monday.

Matta and the Buckeyes made good on such a vow.

"I think LaQuinton got into a little bit of a groove and he and I talked the other day and I just said, 'Hey look: I can't -- we can't -- make shots for you. We can't think for you out there on the court," he said.

"We're going to put you in positions to be successful and I think that he was probably humbled a little bit the way he's shot the ball the last few games."

Ross, who came into Friday's bout with North Florida having totaled just seven points on 24 percent shooting in the three last games, simply couldn't miss this time around.

The junior forward scored 17 points -- 12 of which came from behind the arc -- on six-of-nine shooting to help Ohio State (6-0) bury the Ospreys, 99-64, Friday evening at the Schottenstein Center.

"I recruited LaQuinton very heavily since he was an eighth grader, when I was at Baylor he came to our league camp and we actually have a relationship," said North Florida coach Matthew Driscoll. "A guy jinxed me today and asked me about LaQuinton. He hit that first three in the corner and I started thinking to myself, 'Oh lord, here we go.'"

It was the kind of day against the Buckeyes, which shot nearly 70 percent from the floor.

"Obviously with Thanksgiving yesterday and obviously with the players having the opportunity to go over to coach's [Matta's] house for Thanksgiving, I really would love to drug test the turkeys and see exactly what he put inside that turkey," Driscoll said playfully. "Obviously this is the best they've ever shot all year long and unfortunately we helped them get to that percentage."

Amir Williams led all scorers with 18 points on eight-of-11 shots. The junior center also had seven rebounds.

Amedeo Della Valle came off the bench to add 17 points, drilling five-of-eight from three, and floor leader Aaron Craft chipped in 16.

That kind of shooting, as Matta likes to say, might've been contagious Friday.

"I think when guys see other guys make shots it boosts everyone's confidence, it makes everybody think, 'Why can't I be the guy to make the next shot' and that stuff catches on fire and guys starts swinging the ball and getting wide-open shots and coach has been on us to make your open shots," said Lenzelle Smith Jr.

"Everybody has a little coach Matta inside their head saying, 'You better not miss this shot.'"

After modest wins against overmatched foes like the Cowboys and American, this particular triumph might've been the most complete for Ohio State this season.

"We had a great meal at coach's yesterday and we just really wanted to come out and make the most of this opportunity," Craft said. "We wanted to find a way to put 40 minutes together, something that we hadn't really done yet this year. If we have, it's been a long time."

Surely, Ross' play helped accomplish such an endeavour. Without him, the Buckeyes have seemed to struggle in fully dominating teams.

Friday was different.

"When I saw (Ross) this morning at shootaround, I really thought he had a better spirit about himself. He looked like he was -- for some reason, maybe he could a great talk with coach -- but he looked like he was really in a good place on the floor at shootaround and then when I saw him out on the floor before the game, it looked like he was locked in," Driscoll said.

"I think sometimes when you watch him on tape, and maybe I'm wrong -- you guys watch him play -- but he looks like he might not be locked in and he might be not be sure what his role is, what shot he should take, is it a good shot, is it a bad shot, I'm a player, I'm a this, I'm a that, am I a three, am I a four, should I go to the league early? Should I come back?

"I mean, I know everything that's going on. So, to his credit tonight for some reason he seemed to be locked in unfortunately. I asked him to not be. I told him, 'You know, you really need to do lottery status tonight.' I couldn't get his mind on the NBA, though."

An exchange of runs would define a first half that saw the Buckeyes make 10 of their 11 first shots.

North Florida made its first three field goals and led, 6-5, before embarking down a woeful road of shooting misfortunes in missing their next eight shots.

"I turned to our assistants and said, 'Do you realize that neither team has missed yet? That's not a good sign,'" Driscoll said.

In the meantime, Ohio State employed a 19-0 run to build a cushion it wouldn't relinquish.

While back-to-back threes from sophomore guard Beau Beech were part of a 14-4 run Osprey run to make it, 28-20, at the under eight timeout, the Buckeyes would smother any chance of a comeback and coast to the 35-point victory.

"It felt really good was when it got to be 28-20. We played Florida, the tenth-best team in the country and we were down 18 and cut it to four at the end of the half and then we're down 19 and cut it to six and had a lull with five minutes to go with a chance to cut it to four so at that point I really thought to myself, 'OK, we weathered the storm, for whatever reason it was 24-6, we weathered the storm and we're gonna be OK,'" Driscoll said.

But behind a flurry of scorers, Ohio State was too much for North Florida.

"The guys don't understand they're going to go to another level and I just didn't think we answered that next bell like we answered the first bell," Driscoll said. "And then they kept making shots."

Ohio State is set to play Maryland Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge at the Schottenstein Center.

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