COLUMBUS, Ohio - Coming into the 2012-13 season the No. 4 ranked Buckeyes knew that they were going to have to retool the team with the departures of Jared Sullinger and William Buford. On Tuesday night the Buckeyes took a large step in defending their Big Ten crown with a 83-71 win over Walsh in an exhibition game that saw Deshaun Thomas lead the way with 25 points and six rebounds while LaQuinton Ross was named a surprise starter and chipped in 13 points of his own.
But it was far from a perfect night for the Buckeyes as they saw the Cavaliers lead for close to 14 minutes of the first half. Jeff Copeland had 16 points to lead Walsh while both Kenny Kornowski (12 points) and Jesse Hardin (11 points) were both in double figures.
It was not the way that the Buckeyes wanted to start the year, even if the game didn't count, coming off of a Final Four season.
"As I said to the guys after the game, I had a little bit of déjà vu of 2007 or 2008 where we played Findlay, coming off of the Final Four and we lost some great players," head coach Thad Matta said after the game. "Guys just thought they could show up and be effective. It is okay to look at yourself in the mirror and say, 'I can play better', and I think that is what this team has to do."
Ohio State took the lead for good at the 2:09 mark of the first half after a Thomas made field goal and the Buckeyes were able to run the lead out to nine points before going to the locker room. The halftime stats for the Buckeyes were far from impressive with Ohio State getting outrebounded (20 to 13) and committing more turnovers than assists (8 to 5). Walsh also connected on 5-9 shots from beyond the arc while the Buckeyes fell in love with the three point shot, despite having very little success in going 4-15.
"You have to give them some credit," guard Aaron Craft said. "They came in and weren't backing down. We have got a lot of things to learn and a long way to go. The best part about it is it is still October and hopefully we can get better tomorrow."
The Buckeyes came out and immediately drove the margin of the game to double figures and never were pushed again but never really seemed to find much in the way of a stroke throughout the game. The game did afford Matta the chance to play ten players and see various combinations of personnel on the court but the team was never really able to impose its will on Walsh.
"It is frustrating any time you are losing in a game, not just an exhibition game or whoever we are playing," Craft said. "Facing adversity and facing when things are not kind of going your way, that is something that we are going to have to deal with throughout the year and it has already hit us. We already have a little bit of a taste."
Evan Ravenel and Sam Thompson each had 11 points coming off of the bench for the Buckeyes. There was a lot of attention paid to center Amir Williams who was largely ineffective on the offensive side with only two points on 1-3 shooting. He did block five shots for the Buckeyes but according to Matta, those blocks were more of a bail out scenario than a game changing moment.
"The problem with Amir's blocks were they were all because we got beat defensively," Matta said. "He didn't block any of the jump hooks that the big kid shot over him. He saved us... which I am very excited about, we have been on Amir to block shots but they can't force that rotation as many times as they did."
Thomas played the role of leader on the court and in the huddle. Thomas' 9-17 shooting paced the Buckeyes but the junior forward also took younger players under his wing and helped the Buckeyes get through some tense moments as things were not going according to plan.
"These players need a leader, someone who has been through the trenches and has fought those battles," Thomas said. "Once Big Ten season starts rolling, they will need a leader and come December we need to be playing better and we will."
Ohio State's next came will count in the standings and will not be any sort of a lay-up as the Buckeyes open on a neutral court against Marquette in the Carrier Classic in Charleston (S.C.). The game is set to tip off on the deck of the USS Yorktown at 7 p.m. on November 9th and the game will be carried on NBC Sports Network.