COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Even before their plane left Gainesville, Fla., on Tuesday night, coach Thad Matta was already reminding his Ohio State Buckeyes that one win doesn’t make a season.
In their first outing since dismantling ninth-ranked Florida on its home floor, Deshaun Thomas scored 15 points and the fourth-ranked Buckeyes showed the win hadn’t gone to their heads in an 81-41 victory over UNC-Wilmington on Saturday night in the Global Sports Invitational.
Matta said he was concerned how his team would handle the win.
”We started talking about it immediately after the game on Tuesday night,” he said. ”That was the big challenge for these guys, to come out and have the focus and the mindset they needed to play tonight.”
The latest win was another step in the learning process for a freshman class deemed one of the best in the nation.
In addition to Thomas, first-year players Jordan Sibert and Jared Sullinger each had 11 points for the Buckeyes (3-0). Upperclassmen William Buford added 12 points, David Lighty had 10, and Dallas Lauderdale had 10 rebounds.
”We practice so hard,” said Thomas, the third-leading prep scorer ever in Indiana. ”Coach is like, ‘Don’t get down because you know everybody’s watching this game, everybody wants to see how we do in this game coming off the big win.”’
Sibert, seeing his most extensive playing time, hit three 3-pointers in the first half.
”Every day in practice, the coaches were telling us that people are expecting a letdown from us and we have to go out and show exactly what we are,” said Sibert, a lanky swingman out of Cincinnati. ”This was a test to show what we were. We still have a lot of room to grow.”
The Buckeyes shocked many by dominating Florida in the second half, outscoring a veteran bunch of Gators 55-34 in the last 20 minutes.
Against UNC-Wilmington, Ohio State rolled to a 7-0 lead while holding the Seahawks (2-2) scoreless for the opening 4:39. Then Matta let his freshmen – who make up roughly half of the squad – get some seasoning.
”The whole thing is a learning experience,” said Sibert, who also had five rebounds in 19 minutes. ”We’re young; we have a whole lot of time to grow. I give our older players all the credit because they show that they have confidence in us.”
With the game already firmly in hand at 48-16 at the half, the Buckeyes scored the first eight points of the second half as Ohio State improved to 71-5 against non-Big Ten teams at Value City Arena.
All 10 scholarship players scored for the Buckeyes and all of them also played double-digits in minutes.
”We won’t face a team like that the rest of the season,” Seahawks first-year coach Buzz Peterson said. ”They’ve got a makeup of a lot of good things, inside to outside. I don’t see why as the season goes they don’t get better and better. This could be a good season for them.”
Sullinger ended up with 11 points and eight rebounds, failing to match an Ohio State record set by Herb Williams (1977) by posting double-doubles in his first three games as a freshman. Matta said he was unaware of the mark and kept the 6-foot-9 forward on the bench down the stretch.
Lighty made a 3 from the corner to open the game and Buford hit a 15-footer from the wing, then the upperclassmen stood back and watched the freshmen take over.
During one spell, frosh scored 12 points in a row for Ohio State. They accounted for 24 of the last 34 points in the opening half.
The Buckeyes gradually pulled away and were able to mix and match lineups in the second half.
Almost everyone contributed.
”We’ve got depth. We’ve got a lot of scorers,” Thomas said. ”We’re just so athletic, and so long, anyone can score and anyone can do it on a given night.”
The 16 points at halftime for UNCW was the fewest by an Ohio State opponent since Northwestern also scored 16 on March 8, 2009.
Peterson has coached at Coastal Carolina, Tennessee, Tulsa and Appalachian State, and was a member of the 1982 NCAA championship North Carolina team.
He’s got a pretty good grasp of what it takes to be a great team. And he’s certain Ohio State has the ingredients.
”They’ve got a lot of different weapons,” he said. ”If you want to try to clog up the inside, then you’re going to give something up.”
Then he added, laughing, ”I don’t want to jinx them by saying anything else.”