DAYTON, Ohio - Confidence may make for great sound bites but talent wins basketball games and the Buckeyes had more than enough to dispatch of the Iona Gaels on Friday night 95-70 to advance to the round of 32 and a date with either Notre Dame or Iowa State. Deshaun Thomas snapped out of his shooting slump to go off for 24 points on a very efficient, 13 in the first half and Sam Thompson chipped in a career high 20 points along with a team high 10 rebounds.
Lamont Jones for Iona was a non-factor with 9 points on 3-14 shooting, the Gaels were led by Tavon Sledge (20 points) and Sean Armand (17 points) on the offensive side of the things but had no answer for Ohio State's offense as 11 players got into the scorebook.
"We didn't want to make it a one-on-one type game," guard Aaron Craft said after the game. Both Craft and Shannon Scott took turns defending the prolific scorer. "This was about our team and how we needed to play defense together, and that's really how we did a good job of taking them out of their offense and kind of making them have to go one on one at times."
Jones was very complimentary of the Ohio State defense after the game, especially of Craft.
"I mean, give credit where credit is due," 'Momo' Jones said. "I think he played good defense. I think I took some bad shots. Things just didn't fall tonight. Can't knock the guy. He played some good defense."
The win moves Ohio State on to the next round in the West Region, a region that has seen the No. 3, 4 and 5 seed all lose and the No. 1 seed, Gonzaga, struggle in its opener. The Buckeyes admit they don't have time to focus on the big picture and can only control what they can control.
"When you get to the tournament you definitely want to play your best basketball," Lenzelle Smith, Jr. said. "We are going to play against teams that are going to give you their best shot because if they don't win the game their season is over.
One of the best sites for Ohio State fans is the hot start that Thomas got, especially after an inefficient Big Ten Tournament that saw him score a lot of points but on a very low percentage. The Buckeyes know that their leading scorer is going to have a big factor in just how far this team can advance and everyone was happy to see him get it going early.
"It feels good coming out and hitting that first shot, the first couple shots," Thomas said. "Coach always says to keep shooting and knock them down and that is what we did."
Ohio State opened up a 19 point lead in the first half and appeared to have the game on cruise control but the Gaels of Iona would not go away and would cut the lead down to ten and take a ten point deficit to the halftime locker room. But to Iona's credit they did get the lead back down to four with less than two minutes to go before the Bucks closed out the half on a mini-run.
"I definitely think it was a lack of focus," Thompson said. "We sort of got relaxed. We started feeling ourselves. We started patting ourselves on the back. Give Iona credit. They came out, and they kept fighting, and they fought all the way back down to 4 points. It's just a lesson for us that any team in this tournament, we can't feel good. We can't rest on our laurels. We have to play for the 40 minutes."
The Buckeyes turned that 10 point lead to a 19 point lead in the first two minutes of the second half, punctuated by one of Thompson's many alley-oop dunks that should be a fixture on "One Shining Moment" at the end of the tournament. Thompson joked after the game that he hopes he is featured in the full tournament montage.
"The thing we told our guys going in is that we thought it could be a 'fun' type of basketball game," Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said. "We wanted them to understand that if they were going to force us to go we had to go with intelligence."
The Buckeyes shot 48-percent form the field on the evening and 50-percent in the first half. It was apparent that the offense was clicking but the defense was there too holding a team that scores in the 80s down to 70 and many points came after the game was well in hand.
"When we are defending and all five guys are flying around the floor and forcing turnovers and forcing tough shots it gives us some easy buckets," Thompson said. "We are a tough team to beat when we do that."
Iona head coach Tim Cluess was blunt after the game that the better team won.
"I want to give Ohio State credit," Cluess said. "We ran into a bus today. They played a great basketball game, great basketball team. We just weren't up to the task today."
Ultimately it was the fast start that set the tempo of this game and getting a good start is something that every team strives for but the Buckeyes, even during the nine game winning streak, have not been quick starters and hope this is the start of something new, something that could take them through five more games if they are so fortunate.
"Ever since we played up at Wisconsin, we can't have bad starts, we can't have bad halves, we can't have bad wars," Craft said. "Not that we are playing perfect but we have to play with energy."