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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Earlier this week, Ohio State coach Thad Matta preached the need for defense to become his team's identity. His players, on the other hand, just wanted to get back to putting the ball in the basket.
Both had their wishes granted on Saturday, when a complete effort on both ends of the floor fueled the Buckeyes to an a 89-55 win over Long Beach State at the Schottenstein Center.
OSU came into the game sporting a 5-1 record, worthy of the No. 7 ranking in the country. but its deficiencies were becoming more apparent in the recent weeks. In the Buckeyes' previous two games- a 73-68 loss to Duke and a 70-43 win over Northern Kentucky- they had been held to a 35 percent success rate shooting the ball, and allowed the Blue Devils to connect on 47 percent of its shots.
Some of the concern that those numbers raised were put to ease in OSU's beat down of LBSU, where it made 47 percent of its shots and held the 49ers to a 31 percent success rate from the field.
"It felt good," Thomas said of the Buckeyes' effort against the 49ers. "We came into this game a little flat, but the one thing we did was we stayed together and we shared the ball real well, and then we had excitement after we shared the ball when we passed to each other and somebody scored. That's the one thing about our team, when the shots weren't going, we didn't need to put our heads down or feel bad, because there's already a next person who's going to spark it up."
The 89 points the Buckeyes scored- which were two short of a season-high- came from a variety of places, with four players reaching the double-digit points on Saturday. Thomas led the way with 18 points, but was proud of the way his teammates aided his performance.
"Once everybody else hitting (their shots), that frees up me," Thomas said. "The last couple of games, teams haven't been leaving me. So when they're scoring, they're going to have to back up on me and help out their teammates, so that frees up me."
OSU coach Thad Matta said that not only is it nice, but it's necessary, for players other than Thomas- a preseason All-American- to step up offensively.
"That's the way have to be," Matta said. "As you get into the conference play, the Big Ten defensively is as good there is in the country and just having different guys that can knock shots down is something that's going to be advantageous for us throughout the season."
Defensively, Matta also felt that the Buckeyes took a step in the right direction on Saturday. Not only did OSU hold the 49ers to a low shooting percentage and force 13 turnovers, but it applied some of the lessons that it learned in film study to Saturday's game.
Long Beach State Dan Monson, who has faced stiff competition from the likes of North Carolina, Arizona, and Syracuse this season, said that defensively, the Buckeyes are the best team that the 49ers have gone up against all year. Even with that praise, Matta isn't buying that his team is where it needs to be yet on that end of the floor, but was encouraged by some of the things he saw from his players on Saturday.
"They had some things they were doing offensively that we had worked on, I think we understood that there was a game going on on the other side of the floor and you could affect it, where last week, we didn't even know there was a game going on on the other side of the floor, let alone affect it," Matta said. "Hopefully, we're making some strides in the right direction."
While the Buckeyes are a little less than a month away from conference play and three away from the NCAA Tournament, Saturday's win gave them a glimpse of what they could be if they can put together their many pieces. That can be a promising thing for this relatively young team that is still trying to find itself now a month into the season.
"We can say that we're a great team right now because we just played a good team and won by a lot," OSU guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said. "I think it's going to come down to what we do next game. If we can continue to play like this and feed off of keep it going and keep it rolling, I think we're going to be a pretty good team to face when it comes to March."
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