COLUMBUS, Ohio - The time has gone by fast for guard Jon Diebler, who played in the first game of his senior year Sunday in Ohio State's 102-56 win over Walsh University in an exhibition game in Value City Arena.
But to Diebler, before the game it felt eerily similar to the first game of his Buckeye career - a two-point exhibition loss to Division II Findlay three years ago, coincidentally the last time Ohio State had welcomed this many freshmen to the team.
So before the No. 4 Buckeyes took on Walsh this season - unofficially kicking off the basketball season in Columbus - Diebler had a message for his squad.
"I reminded everyone that Sunday is a real game in our eyes," Diebler said. "I am not taking anything away from Findlay, but that was embarrassing."
The Buckeyes introduced six freshmen to the team properly this time around, including point guard Aaron Craft, a Findlay, Ohio native that vividly remembered Ohio State's blunder to his hometown college three years ago.
"I am from the hometown that beat them Jon's freshman year. My town was pretty happy, pretty excited," Craft said. "It was all they could talk about for a while so that was definitely sticking in my mind."
This time, though, the Buckeyes got their season off to a fast start, which included production from five freshman and the four returning starters for the Buckeyes.
"Overall I was pretty pleased," Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said after the game. "I thought we did a good job offensively (with) shot selection, taking decent shots. I thought we moved the ball well."
Sullinger makes splash in debut
Just as fast as the Ohio State basketball team lost one of the premier players in the nation in Evan Turner, the Buckeyes may already be welcoming in a new player that will garner just as much attention.
Making his highly anticipated debut for the Buckeyes, freshman Jared Sullinger proved to be one of Ohio State's biggest weapons on both sides of the floor in the team's first action of the season.
The younger brother of former Buckeye J.J. Sullinger, the 6-foot-9 freshman posted a double-double with 22 points and 10 rebounds in his first 29 minutes of action as an Ohio State basketball player.
"I played good because my teammates got me the ball," Sullinger said after the game. "They got me in the right spots and everybody was just sharing the basketball."
Sullinger was the only freshman in the starting lineup for the Buckeyes, but he proved to be up to the task. The former McDonald's All-American provided an inside presence the Buckeyes haven't seen in some time, and it translated into six offensive rebounds and attention from the Walsh defense that allowed other Buckeyes to find space.
"It's the last man standing when it comes to me," Sullinger said. "If you stop me, you stop me. If you don't, you don't. If I find the hot hand, if I have to get it off the boards, it's whatever to make my team win. I had six offensive rebounds, and I just had to find a way to score and that's where the bread and butter was."
Matta added: "I thought he had a pretty good command about him. We did a decent job of finding him down low and he showed he can also pass the basketball. We've got to continue to build him. That's his first 'college game' he's every played in and I was pretty pleased with him today."
Getting to the point
Matta said last week that he thought everyone was more worried about Ohio State's point guard situation than he was. On Saturday, Matta's team proved why the head coach was at ease just days before the exhibition game.
The Buckeyes came out with junior guard William Buford running the point and seemed to make good decisions for the most part. Buford did have a turnover and a bad pass in transition that hit Diebler in the back, but Matta was seemingly pleased with what he saw out of Buford in his time as the primary ball handler.
"I thought, with the exception of the advanced pass into Jon's back, he was pretty good," Matta said of Buford. "He's done a pretty good job. His game has gotten a lot better and I think his ball-handling all-around his much, much better."
Buford's time at point guard this season could be a tad different because the Buckeyes are going to push the tempo on its opposition all season, but the junior did get time to feel out his role from last season.
Craft, a freshman point guard, checked into the game after five minutes to play point guard and Buford remained in the game as a wing. It was in this sequence that the Buckeye offense seemed to click most naturally.
With Buford in as a wing, he became the natural scorer we had seen out of him last season, finishing with the game 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting in 25 minutes.
Though there is no telling how many minutes Craft will get as the season progresses, he proved to be the quick spark the Buckeyes needed. Craft sported excellent decision-making, found the open guys, and fought for rebounds and loose balls.
In all, Craft finished with 12 points, four rebounds, and eight assists (seven in the first half) and he also had two steals. The biggest stat of the night, however, could be the fact that Craft did not turn the ball over once in the game.
Sporting the prototypical look of a point guard, Craft could be a big piece to Ohio State's puzzle.
"What you saw today with Aaron is how he's been throughout the course of practice," Matta said. "When he checked in at the 15-minute mark, we had given up 10 points and I thought that he did a pretty good job of picking up."
Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at Ari@BuckeyeGrove.com.