Perhaps it was opposing teams specifically game planning to attack Ohio State’s paint, or maybe it was the heart-to-heart he had with the Buckeyes assistant coaches to analyze why he wasn’t producing the way a senior is supposed to.
Whatever his motivation, its been clear that big man Evan Ravenel has made a conscious effort to change his approach to a more aggressive, energetic style in No. 7 Ohio State’s last two wins, the most recent example being the Buckeyes 90-72 victory over UNC-Asheville in Value City Arena on Saturday afternoon.
It was a limited sample size for Ravenel against the Bulldogs, but he tied his career-high with 12 points and added seven rebounds in 16 minutes of action in the first half.
Ravenel played sparingly in the second half and finished with those numbers, but it was another impressive showing nonetheless after he scored 11 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the Buckeyes’ win over Savannah State on Wednesday.
“I am happy with the way I have been playing the last few games, but it is a long season and we have a lot of tough opponents ahead of us,” Ravenel said. “I am just trying not to worry about things and just playing with energy. When I play with energy, good things happen. They did today.”
Why it was hard for the Bulldogs (3-7) to keep pace with Ohio State – even with getting a career-high 26 points from sophomore Keith Hornsby, the son of Grammy-winning musician Bruce Hornsby – was because Ravenel didn’t act alone.
Sophomore Sam Thompson scored also scored a career-high with 18 points, Deshaun Thomas had 17 and Lenzelle Smith Jr. added 16 for the Buckeyes (8-1), who used an efficient up-tempo pace to open up a 50-35 halftime lead before cruising to the victory.
It wasn’t long ago that the Buckeyes were concerned about finding secondary scoring options to Thomas, but in the team’s last three wins – all blowout victories – they’ve had at least four scorers in double figures.
Ohio State could go a long way in easing any trepidation it still may have with getting consistent secondary scoring for Thomas if it can perfect the tempo it played against Asheville. Playing perhaps its most complete game in transition, the Buckeyes scored 26 fast break points while creating easy looks at the basket after quicky running off of turnovers and rebounds.
“We watched film on them the past few days and they noticed they didn’t stop the ball really well,” Thompson said. “We knew if we could get stops, we could push the ball up the floor and get to the rim. We tried to take advantage of that and I think we did.”
Thompson was perhaps the biggest recipient of that fast pace, especially because his athletic nature helps him score with ease in transition. Getting easy buckets early – whether it was a mid-range jumper, a dunk or trips to the free throw line – helped him score in a variety of ways, leading to the most efficient offensive game of his collegiate career.
“He is always a threat in transition in terms of what he’s capable of doing,” Matta said of Thompson. “His speed that he has, it gets him down the floor as quick as anyone I’ve seen. He scored in a variety of ways. That’s good for him.”
Despite flashing superior athleticism for the first 20 minutes, Ohio State didn’t hold an insurmountable lead at halftime. Thompson, however, fixed that when he scored seven of his points as the Buckeyes tallied 15 of the first 18 points of the second half to widen the advantage to 65-38.
The Bulldogs never inched back close enough to threaten the Buckeyes, who used all of their clean looks at the basket to shoot 59.0 percent from the floor (36 of 61).
The latest win was yet another tune-up for Ohio State, who is now just a week away from hosting No. 9 Kansas next Saturday. Whether the Buckeyes will show signs of growth from their lone loss of the season at Duke remains to be seen.
Matta would prefer it if the Buckeyes continued their success in transition against teams like the Jayhawks and the upcoming Big Ten opponents, but also hopes that OSU can stay efficient in half-court sets even when opportunities in transition are scarce.
“The defense gets so tough and I think every coach in the country wants easy baskets, but with that said they’re probably a little harder to come by,” Matta said. “We talked about if the transition was not there, we had to be efficient in our offense. I think we were for 25 minutes of this game.”
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