The Buckeyes will face No. 10 Iowa State in Sunday’s second round.
It wasn’t long ago that the Buckeyes lacked signature wins. Whenever they started to resemble the team that reached the Final Four one year ago, they’d immediately give reason to sound alarms: losses at Duke, against Kansas, back-to-back defeats at Michigan and against Indiana.
But suddenly, Ohio State is one of the tournament’s hottest teams. The Big 10 champs haven’t lost in a month and rode an eight-game winning streak into the tournament.
“Everyone’s doing their job,” said Buckeyes guard Aaron Craft, who had seven assists. “We’re not playing perfect, but we’re covering for each other and that’s what it’s about.”
In thrashing the Gaels, four Buckeyes finished in double digits, led by Thomas’s 24 points and Thompson’s 20. Thomas also had 10 rebounds for Ohio State.
“We ran into a buzzsaw,” Iona Coach Tim Cluess said.
Iona is winless in seven trips to the NCAA tournament, and the Gaels’ chances against the Buckeyes amounted to a brief flicker Friday. They spent much of the game watching Ohio State’s players fly overhead. The final count for the Buckeyes was four alley-oops and four old-fashioned slams. “A lot of things we can’t even get up in the air to get near,” Cluess said.
With a large red-clad fan base that gave the arena the feel of a home game, Ohio State built a 19-point lead midway through the first half. But Iona pieced together an 11-3 run, capped by a Tre Bowman layup, that cut the Buckeyes’ lead to just four.
Iona’s fans had barely risen from their seats at University of Dayton Arena when the Buckeyes were sprinting the other way and Shannon Scott lofted a floater to Thompson. Flying through the air, the Buckeyes’ talented sophomore caught the ball with one hand behind him and slammed home a dunk, crushing any hint of a comeback.
“We tell our guys, hey, if you can dunk it, dunk it,” Buckeyes Coach Thad Matta said. “If you have to come down with it, fine. I just want to make sure we get the two points.”
Ohio State scored the first half’s final six points, taking a 10-point lead into the break, and then accounted for the first nine points of the second half.
“We just weren’t up to the task today,” Cluess said. “Our guys played as hard as they could. Just didn’t have the result we would’ve liked.”
The Gaels, winners of the MAAC title, boasted the nation’s second-leading scorer in senior Lamont Jones. He finished the game with only nine points.
“Things just didn’t fall tonight,” Jones said.
●IOWA STATE 76, NOTRE DAME 58: The Fighting Irish were tough on the eyes for long stretches against the Cyclones, and this time it had nothing to do with their uniforms.
Notre Dame (25-10) ditched the garish neon green gear it wore in the Big East tournament, and fans were able to focus their attention on the Fighting Irish’s play on the court. Maybe the jersey distraction wasn’t such a bad thing.
Looking nothing like a slight underdog, No. 10 Iowa State (23-11) had no trouble getting to the hoop against a bigger Notre Dame team, as the Cyclones routed the No. 7 Fighting Irish.
It marked the fourth straight year Notre Dame made the tournament and the third time in that span that it went home following an opening-round loss.
Four Cyclones reached double digits in scoring, led by junior Melvin Ejim (17 points, eight rebounds, five assists) and freshman Georges Niang, who had 19 points on 9-of-13 shooting.