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December 14, 2013

No upset here

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- After a drubbing at the hands of Ohio State, North Dakota State coach Saul Phillips explained the extent of his admiration for the No. 3/2-ranked Buckeyes.

"You know in the coaches' poll, they had one first place vote. Guess who that first place vote was," he said before raising his hand up in the air.

"Didn't change my mind tonight."

After upsetting Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., Wednesday night, such magic did not follow Phillips and the Bison to Columbus.

Behind a trademark stingy defensive effort and its fourth-straight game shooting at or more than 50 percent from the floor, Ohio State used a late first-half run to kindle a 79-62 blowout of the Bison Saturday night at the Schottenstein Center.

"They're a very good team, they've very well coached," Phillips said.

"I was up all night a couple nights ago trying to find a weakness and then I realized that they really don't have a lot."

While four Buckeyes scored in double figures, it LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith Jr. who led their team with 18 points apiece. Marc Loving and Sam Thompson each chipped in 12 apiece too.

If shooting was an issue earlier this season, Ohio State has remedied such a problem as of late after knocking down 53 percent of its shots against the Bison.

"We have spent more time than you can imagine on shooting the basketball right now and obviously we're gonna stay with it," said Buckeyes coach Thad Matta.

"We know this: we weren't shooting it well early in the season and a lot of that was our inside finishes but when you're watching these guys put the work in that they're doing it's good to see it go in during the game when the lights are on."

Such was the case Saturday and it started early.

Ohio State opened up the contest with a flurry of shots from behind the arc and buried six-of-11 tries by the end of the first half. In fact, its 55 percent connection rate from three-point range was even better than its 52-percent outing from the floor.

It might've been the difference in the contest, too.

"No question. When you're playing a Big Ten team that's number two ranked in America -- should be number one -- and they're knocking down threes at that rate you got an uphill climb. There's no question about it," Phillips said.

"You look at our contests on those shots, I thought a lot of them were pretty good. I'll go back and look and we'll try to improve but there's a reason those kids are at a Big Ten school. There's a reason they're playing for Thad Matta in a beautiful building with all the amenities that go with it.

"They're bigger stronger and faster at a lot of positions and when you add in the skill part of it, it's a long road to haul. They were terrific tonight. We had their full attention, they played very well and we had no answer for them."

But the seemingly overmatched Bison kept the contest relatively close for much of the first half.

For most of the period, the Buckeyes seemed unable to pull away from a North Dakota State team that took advantage of occasional -- and perhaps rather rare -- defensive lapses amid a floundering to 37-percent performance in the first 20 minutes.

By and large, though, Ohio State -- like it has been all season -- was dominant in guarding its basket.

"Those guards pressure the ball so well, they put such good ball pressure on within the half court and I think that's a strength against anybody in the country," Phillips said.

"They're just better at that than anybody."

In particular, Phillips singled out senior guard Aaron Craft, who became the Buckeyes' all-time assist leader with 581 after seven dishes Saturday night.

"Craft is such a unique player in that he can dominate a game and shoot five times and go 2-for-5," he said. "There aren't many like him out there."

With just more than two minutes to play in the half, Ohio State led 34-28 before erupting for a 7-0 en route to build a cushion it wouldn't relinquish after sustaining such early shooting production.

"Look at the types of shots they're getting, look at how they play off each other. I mean those threes aren't threes coming off staggers with guys hanging off their hip. They get into the paint, they make good decisions with the ball," Phillips said.

"Great shooting teams aren't necessarily teams with the best shooters on them, they're the teams that get just the best shots we were pretty good at not allowing those shots, we weren't pretty good tonight at it because of them and partly because of us."

Riding the momentum established prior to intermission, the Buckeyes -- which led by as many as 22 in the second half -- would coast with relative ease to the blowout win.

Ohio State is set to play Delaware Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.

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