Ohio State was very good without Greg Oden. Now with the prized 7-foot freshman on the court, it might be the best team in the country.
The fifth-ranked Buckeyes will play their second game with Oden on Saturday when they host Cleveland State.
Oden, an expected No. 1 overall pick as early as 2007, surprised many by making his much anticipated college debut a month earlier than expected after undergoing wrist surgery. Shooting left-handed, Oden scored 14 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as Ohio State (7-1) beat Valparaiso 78-58 last Saturday.
“It felt really good,” Oden said. “I had fun out there with my teammates. I didn’t get a chance to dunk. You could tell I was anxious. I traveled, like, eight times.”
Oden actually had only three turnovers, and played well in 23 minutes of action against the Crusaders after receiving a standing ovation when he entered at the 16:37 mark of the first half. He blocked five shots, went 3-of-4 from the field and made 8-for-15 at the foul line.
With a target date of Jan. 1 to practice, Oden had participated in some team drills. Team doctors felt his wrist had healed well enough and his surgeon in Indianapolis cleared him to play.
“Greg would be first to tell you he’s not back to where he’s gong to be,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “But the work our doctors have done to get him to this point is amazing.”
Depending on his stamina, Oden will try to go just as hard Saturday against Cleveland State, though Matta likely won’t be too greedy with his star against a team the Buckeyes are 4-1 against all-time. Oden could possibly make his first start Saturday.
“He has a tremendous future in front of him, as does this team,” Matta said. “To be honest, I was shocked with his conditioning. I thought he’d get a little bit more tired, but it goes back to how much work he did to put him in position when this day came.
“He has a tremendous future in front of him, as does the team.”
Coming off a 98-89 loss at then-No. 7 North Carolina on Nov. 29, the Buckeyes saw Oden and fellow freshman Daequan Cook have solid games off the bench against Valparaiso to help make up for a quiet game from top scorer Ron Lewis.
Cook scored 20 points to raise his season average to 17.6 per game. Lewis’ scoring average dipped to 17.8 as the senior took only five shots and finished with 10 points.
Ohio State shot 51.1 percent and went 10-for-22 from 3-point range. The Buckeyes rank among the top 10 in the country in 3-point accuracy at 43.7 percent.
Cleveland State (5-5) has lost two straight after winning four in a row. The Vikings have struggled to get shots to fall during the recent skid.
They went more than seven minutes without a field goal to open the game and shot 32.4 percent overall in a 93-60 loss at Kansas State on Tuesday.
“We didn’t compete in the first half,” first-year coach Gary Waters said. “There were opportunities to make it a ballgame, but we backed down. We can’t do that and expect to win.”
The Vikings shot 33.3 percent in a 70-45 loss to then-No. 19 Butler on Dec. 12. Cleveland State has been held below 37 percent from the floor in three straight games, and is shooting 40.7 percent for the season.
Sophomore forward J’Nathan Bullock is the only Vikings player averaging in double figures with 14.1 points per game.
Cleveland State is 5-24 against Big Ten schools. Ohio State won 75-52 on Dec. 2, 1995 at Columbus in these teams’ last meeting.