Ohio State was unexpectedly challenged in its last game before pulling away in the second half to extend the nation’s longest winning streak.
The Buckeyes will try to put together a more complete performance in a rematch with the team they beat to start their run.
The 15th-ranked Buckeyes go for their 14th consecutive victory Monday night when they host North Carolina-Asheville in a rematch of the teams’ first-round game in last season’s NIT.
Ohio State lost in the first round of the Big Ten tournament last season and missed out on an NCAA tournament bid. The Buckeyes made the most of their trip to the NIT, winning five straight games to take the title - a run that started with an 84-66 rout of North Carolina-Asheville.
Ohio State’s postseason success has carried over into this season, as the Buckeyes (8-0) have opened with their longest undefeated start since winning their first 11 games in 2005-06.
The streak appeared to be in jeopardy Saturday, when they fell behind early in the second half against Iona. But after giving up the first seven points after halftime, the Buckeyes outscored the Gaels 43-22 the rest of the way to pull out a 71-53 victory.
Evan Turner had 21 points and six rebounds as Ohio State played its first game without forward David Lighty, who’s expected to miss six-to-12 weeks with a broken bone in his left foot. Lighty is third on the team with 9.7 points per game and second with 5.7 rebounds.
“(Coach Thad Matta) yelled at us at the beginning of the second half,” Turner said. “He was reminding us that everybody had to play hard because we didn’t have David. Everyone accepted the challenge.”
Freshman William Buford had 10 points and five rebounds with two 3-pointers in a season-high 32 minutes in Lighty’s absence, and could see increased playing time as the Buckeyes continue to adjust.
“I always try to prepare hard for games, no matter who we’re playing or how many minutes I’ll play,” said Buford, who had averaged less than 14 minutes over his previous four games. “I’m working harder on my defense, because that’s how you get on the court for Coach Matta.”
The Buckeyes will put their win streak on the line against a North Carolina-Asheville team that’s already 0-3 against ranked opponents. It has given up 100.7 points per game in losses to top-ranked North Carolina, then-No. 10 Tennessee and then-No. 6 Duke, falling by an average margin of 43.0 points.
The Bulldogs (4-7) didn’t fare much better in their last game against an unranked team, shooting just 34.6 percent from the field in a 71-52 loss at Buffalo on Saturday. They missed 15 of 17 3-point attempts, committed 16 turnovers and were outrebounded 42-26 in falling to 0-6 on the road.
“We’re going to have to get tougher both mentally and physically,” coach Eddie Biedenbach told the team’s official Web site. “We’re playing hard, but we’re a young team. Our guys have to learn to grind things out on both offense and defense. We have flashes of that at times, but you have to do it for 40 minutes.”
It’ll likely take 40 minutes of strong play to beat the Buckeyes, who shot 56.3 percent in their NIT win over the Bulldogs on March 18.
Turner was held to two points in 24 minutes in that game, while Reid Augst - North Carolina-Asheville’s leading scorer with 14.5 points per game - scored 20 with four 3-pointers and eight rebounds.