No. 4 Ohio State men fight off Rhode Island
UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) – Ohio State finally got a test away from Columbus and managed to get a win in a hostile environment.
Deshaun Thomas scored 25 points and grabbed 10 rebounds and the fourth-ranked Buckeyes beat Rhode Island 69-58 in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off tournament in Connecticut on Saturday.
Lenzelle Smith Jr. added 15 points, Aaron Craft had 13 points and four assists for Ohio State (2-0), which struggled with the Rams (0-3) well into the second half.
Xavier Munford had 16 points to lead Rhode Island, which had four players in double figures and trailed by just four at halftime.
“We’re going to know a lot more about our basketball team at 6:30 then we did coming into this, Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “I think this will be good for our team in terms of growth.”
This was Ohio State’s first game away from home, and its first on a neutral court.
The Buckeyes had been scheduled to play on Nov. 9 in the Carrier Classic on the USS Yorktown in South Carolina, but that game had to be cancelled because of condensation on the court.
So the Buckeyes had played just once, a 22-point home win in the opening game of this tournament last Sunday over Albany.
The Rams were down just six in this one when Craft hit a 3-point shot that bounced around the rim and in with 6:45 left and then stole the ball on the other end of the court.
That led to a technical foul on Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley.
Thomas hit both free throws and the five-point swing gave Ohio State a 55-44 edge, its first double-digit lead of the game, and the Buckeyes held on from there.
“It was exciting to play with a lot of spirit and a lot of fight against a top-5, national-caliber program that has a great chance to play in the Final Four,” said Hurley. “Based on where we are as a program, I couldn’t be happier with the way we fought, the way we competed.”
Rhode Island, which came into the game off losses to Norfolk State and Virginia Tech, is rebuilding after a 7-24 season.
Hurley is expecting some growing pains in his first season with the Rams, who have just eight eligible scholarship players. Three others are transfers sitting out this season.
Rhode Island hit eight of its 17 shots from 3-point range to stay in the game, but was outrebounded by 10.
The Rams took an early lead and were up 19-13 after back-to-back 3-pointers by Nikola Malesevic and Andre Malone more than 10 minutes into the game.
Malesevic had seven points when he picked up his second and third fouls in a 12-second span in the first half and his team up 22-17.
Ohio State closed the half on a 7-0 run and led 30-26 at the break. Craft had 10 of his 13 points in the first half.
Malesevic picked up his fourth foul with 16:40 left and Ohio State quickly went up 38-31.
But Rhode Island fought back, and came within two at 38-36 on ally-oop dunk from Mike Powell to Munford.
Thomas showed his range for the Buckeyes, hitting three of his six shots from behind the arc.
“We’re just going to mark it down as a win,” Thomas said. “We know we’re a team that’s can get better each and every day.”
Ohio State plays Sunday against the winner of the game between Seton Hall and Washington. Rhode Island will play against the loser of that game.
This is the same tournament that Kentucky won last season in an early test for its young team, which eventually won the national title.
The game was played before a partisan Rhode Island crowd at the Mohegan Sun arena, which is the home of the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun, and is about a 40-mile drive south of Rhode Island’s campus on Interstate 95.
“We didn’t panic, we kept fighting, kept getting into it,” Craft said. “It was good just to see where our team is.”