COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Prior to the start of the season, Thad Matta expressed a desire to push the pace of games with an uptempo style. The Ohio State head coach proved that those wishes were more than just lip-service on Saturday, when the Buckeyes ran UNC Asheville out of the Schottenstein Center in a 90-72 route of the Bulldogs.
Forcing 17 UNC Asheville turnovers, Ohio State got out in transition early and often, scoring 26 fast break points against the Bulldogs. With four players posting double figure digits in scoring, there were plenty of buckets to go around for the Buckeyes, who recorded assists on 25 of their 36 field goals.
Leading the way for Ohio State was sophomore forward Sam Thompson, who posted a career-high 18 points on 5-of-7 shooting on Saturday, including a windmill dunk that brought the Value City Arena crowd to its feet late in the second half.
"I just wanted to do something to get some energy in the gym," Thompson said. "These early morning games, you don't always come as energized as you need to, so I just wanted to try to put some energy into us."
Joining Thompson in double figures scoring was forward Deshaun Thomas with 17 points and 10 rebounds, Lenzelle Smith Jr. with 16 points, and Evan Ravenel, who added 12 points and seven rebounds for the Buckeyes. Matta is hopeful that his team will be able to reproduce these type of efforts in Big Ten play, where the conference has a reputation of bogging down on the defensive end.
"The defense gets so tough," Matta said of the Big Ten. "I think every coach in the country wants easy baskets, but with that said, they're probably a little bit harder to come by.
The Ohio State offensive effort wasn't all that surprising given the point guard play that Matta received from Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott. The Buckeyes backcourt duo combined for 13 points and 17 assists against the Bulldogs, providing OSU with the uptempo pace that the Buckeyes thought they could take advantage of while studying UNC Asheville on film.
"We noticed that they didn't stop the ball particularly well," Thompson said. "So we knew that if we could get stops, we could get out on the floor and Aaron, Shannon, and Lenzelle could push the ball up the floor and could get to the rim and create for themselves and other people."
Shooting the ball with a 51.9 percent success rate, the Bulldogs hung with the Buckeyes midway through the first half, trailing by as few as six points with 10 minutes to go until intermission. OSU managed to close the half on a 29-19 run, taking a 50-35 lead into the locker rooms.
A Smith three-point shot capped off a 17-5 OSU run to open up the second half that helped extend the Buckeyes' lead to 28 points, which enough of a cushion for them to hold off the Bulldogs, who ultimately outscored Ohio State in the final 17 minutes of the game.
UNC Asheville sophomore Keith Hornsby was the game's leading scorer with 26 points, connecting on six three-pointers against the Buckeyes.
"He's a good player," Smith Jr. said. "He came in here rolling, so when you've got a guy like that with a hot hand, if you don't contain him in the game, it's always going to be tougher."
With a primetime matchup with No. 9 ranked Kansas now just a week away, the Buckeyes will return to action on Tuesday for a 7 p.m. tip-off with Winthrop.