No. 3 Ohio State Relies on Experience to Pull Away From Purdue
By MICHAEL MAROT
AP Sports Writer
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – No. 3 Ohio State relied on a rare commodity to derail Purdue’s young shooters Tuesday.
LaQuinton Ross finished with 25 points and 12 rebounds, both career-highs, and Shannon Scott added a career-best 18 points to help the Buckeyes pull away for a 78-69 win at Purdue – a victory that kept Ohio State among the shrinking group of teams that will take a perfect record into 2014.
“I thought down the stretch our veterans were as good as they could be,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said.
It’s an unusual luxury for Ohio State, which has seen a regular parade of underclassmen leave early for the NBA draft. The list includes Greg Oden and Mike Conley to Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas.
Things are different this season. The Buckeyes have started the same two seniors and the same three juniors in all 14 games, so when things got tough in Tuesday’s Big Ten opener, the older Buckeyes buckled down and came up big every time Ohio State needed a play.
Ross and Scott, both juniors, combined for all of the points in a decisive 10-2 second-half run that finally gave Ohio State some breathing room. And, of course, the wily Aaron Craft continually turned Purdue miscues into game-changing moments. Craft finished with seven points, eight rebounds, 10 assists and four steals against a team came into the game with four of the Big Ten’s top 10 freshman scorers, two of the league’s most dangerous sophomores and a perfect 8-0 record on their home court.
“Ten assists and zero turnovers speaks for itself,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said after losing to the Buckeyes for the fourth straight time. “He gets eight defensive rebounds, and he’s able to affect the game without scoring. There are not a lot of guys who can do that today, especially when they’re 6-foot-2.”
The combination has the Buckeyes (14-0, 1-0) rolling.
Ohio State started the day as one of the nation’s eight remaining unbeaten teams. It left Mackey Arena with the fifth-longest winning streak in one season in school history and the school’s best start since going 24-0 in 2010-11, and the Buckeyes did that on a day they shot 44.6 percent from the field, went 4 of 22 on 3-pointers and were outrebounded 46-37.
Instead, the Buckeyes dug down defensively.
Yes, Purdue sophomore A.J. Hammons produced one of the most complete games of his career. He finished with a season-best 18 points, 16 rebounds and four assists, both career highs, and five blocks. Another sophomore, Ronnie Johnson, had 16 points and Johnson’s older brother, Terone, finished with 13 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
But the Buckeyes suddenly staunch defense still made it tough. Hammons was just 6 of 16 from the field and accounted for four of Purdue’s 12 turnovers. The Boilermakers shot just 41.8 percent from the field, were 3 of 14 on 3-pointers and lost for only the second time in seven games – a telltale sign of how the Buckeyes’ unflappable veterans will respond to challenges.
“That’s something (experience) that we haven’t had the luxury of having very much at Ohio State,” Matta said. “I talk about it with our guys all the time, ‘You’ve been through this before.’ You know we never panicked and there’s no drill that you can do in practice to give them experience.”
Ohio State still showed how much it has learned over the years.
After a topsy-turvy first half, in which neither team led by more than four points, and with the Buckeyes’ top two centers getting into foul trouble defending Hammons, Ohio State managed to find a way out.
It made a concerted effort early in the second half to push the ball inside, extending a 34-33 halftime to 44-39. Forty-five seconds later, Terone Johnson tied the score with a 3. Hammons tied it again at 46 on a tip-in with 13:57 left.
Then the Buckeyes veterans took over.
After using a 6-0 run to finally take a 52-46 lead with 10:35 to go, Scott and Ross went on a personal scoring spree. Each of the juniors scored five points in the decisive 10-2 spurt that pushed the lead to 65-53 with 6:17 remaining – and this time, it was too much for Purdue to overcome. The Boilermakers couldn’t get closer than five the rest of the way.
“That might be one of his best games,” Matta said when asked about Craft’s performance. “I mean, what do you say? His poise, he had great reads on penetration.”
No. 2 Syracuse 70, Eastern Michigan 48
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) – Jerami Grant scored 15 points in his first start of the season, Rakeem Christmas matched his career high with 15 points, and No. 2 Syracuse beat Eastern Michigan 70-48 on Tuesday in the final nonconference game for both teams.
Syracuse (13-0) raced to a 20-point lead in the first half, allowed the Eagles to slice it in half before the break, then regained control early in the second and won its 51st straight nonconference game in the Carrier Dome. The Orange are one of seven unbeaten teams in Division I and begin play in the Atlantic Coast Conference against Miami on Saturday.
Three of Eastern Michigan’s losses coming into the game were against ranked teams – Duke, Kentucky, and UMass. The Eagles (7-5), coached by former Syracuse assistant Rob Murphy, also lost 69-64 at Purdue, managing to average only 60.7 points in the four games.
NO. 5 MICHIGAN ST. 79, PENN ST. 63
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) – Branden Dawson scored 20 points and Keith Appling had 14 for Michigan State in the Big Ten opener for both teams.
Gary Harris added 13 points and Travis Tice had 12 for the Spartans (12-1, 1-0). Dawson led a second-half charge to help the Spartans rally from a halftime deficit and win their fifth straight game.
The Spartans were in total control in the second half, and hit 10 of 20 3-pointers overall.
Brandon Taylor had 18 points for the Nittany Lions (9-5, 0-1) and D.J. Newbill scored 17. Newbill had three 3s and 14 points in the first half.
NO. 7 DUKE 86, ELON 48
GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) – Andre Dawkins scored 15 points to help Duke rout Elon.
Rodney Hood had 13 points and freshman Jabari Parker had 12 points and a season-high-tying 10 rebounds for the Blue Devils (11-2). They never trailed and had little trouble winning their fifth straight, shooting 48.5 percent, forcing 22 turnovers and turning them into 25 points.
Ryley Beaumont and Lucas Troutman scored 11 points each for Elon (7-7).
NO. 14 LOUISVILLE 90, UCF 65
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – Russ Smith hit six 3-pointers and finished with 24 points and nine assists for Louisville in the American Athletic Conference opener for both teams.
Luke Hancock had 16 points for the Cardinals (12-2, 1-0) and Montrezl Harrell added 15 points and eight rebounds.
After seeing a big first-half lead cut to single digits, the Cardinals led by as many as 27 points in the second half, connecting on 14 3-pointers.
Isaiah Sykes led UCF with 19 points and nine rebounds.
The Knights (8-4, 0-1) were playing their first game in nine days and hosting their fourth Top 25 team ever. The loss snapped a five-game winning streak.
NO. 19 NORTH CAROLINA 84, UNC WILMINGTON 51
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) – James Michael McAdoo had 23 points and 10 rebounds and North Carolina became the third program to reach 2,100 victories.
Marcus Paige scored 12 of his 15 points in the second half to help the Tar Heels (10-3) shake free from a slow start. North Carolina shot 63 percent in the second half to turn its final nonconference game into a rout.
The Tar Heels joined Kentucky and Kansas as the only programs with 2,100 victories heading into Sunday’s Atlantic Coast Conference opener at Wake Forest.
Cedrick Williams had 18 points and nine rebounds for the Seahawks (6-9), coached by former UNC player Buzz Peterson. UNCW lost its fourth straight game and fell to 1-24 against ranked opponents.