Ohio State’s two leading scorers are freshmen, but the Buckeyes believe how they fare will come down to their senior leaders.
The No. 3 Buckeyes look to improve to 5-0 for the fourth time in coach Thad Matta’s seven seasons when they host Miami of Ohio on Friday.
Although Ohio State lost Evan Turner - the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft - from a 29-win team last season, the Buckeyes have reloaded with two talented freshmen forwards. Jared Sullinger is averaging 16.0 points and Deshaun Thomas is at 14.8.
The backcourt features seniors David Lighty and Jon Diebler, and the two players combined for 31 points to help the Buckeyes shake off a lethargic start and win 64-45 over Morehead State on Tuesday.
“It’s like I told the young guys when they came in this summer,” Matta said. “I said, ‘We’ve got great leadership, but it’s only effective if you allow yourself to be led.’ Those guys, it’s important to them and they want to a better job of leading. That’s huge for us.”
Sullinger was held to a season-low eight points, but Thomas chipped in 16 off the bench. Ohio State had trouble getting the ball inside against the Eagles’ zone defense, committing a season-high 16 turnovers.
“We must be able to take care of the ball better,” Lighty said. “We had 16 turnovers and need to improve on that.”
The Buckeyes played for the first time without junior guard William Buford, who started the first three games but was held out as a precaution due to back spasms.
“We fully expect him to be ready to play Friday,” Matta said. “He has acute muscle spasms in his back and tonight his muscles started to relax. If this would have been the last game of the season he probably would have played and he will be ready to go against Miami.”
These teams haven’t met since Miami (2-3) won 56-53 in the 1993 postseason NIT, cutting Ohio State’s advantage in the series to 3-2. Matta began his coaching career as an assistant with the RedHawks in 1994-95 and is 3-0 against them from stints coaching Butler and Xavier.
The RedHawks were competitive against the Aztecs, scoring the first five points of the second half for a 39-all tie. However, they were then held scoreless for a 12:35 span during a 25-0 San Diego State run.
“We self-destructed,” coach Charlie Coles said. “We’re not taking care of the ball, and that’s my fault. I don’t know how we do it. We’re just not very good right now.”
Miami has gotten little from its starting backcourt of Orlando Williams and Quinten Rollins, who have combined to average 11.6 points on 35.1 percent shooting.