COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP)—Most big men dream of being guards. Not Greg Oden.
The 7-foot freshman made all eight of his shots from the field and taller, deeper Ohio State controlled inside in the fifth-ranked Buckeyes’ 78-57 victory over Cleveland State on Saturday.
“When Greg committed to us I said we got the only big guy in the country who wants to be a center,” coach Thad Matta said with a smile. “We’ve always said he’s got a high basketball IQ. He knows where he’s good and what he does best.”
What he does best is use his height and athleticism. Oden said he has no hopes of ever turning into a point guard.
“I’m slow, and I get tired. And there’s a lot of ballhandling. That’s about it,” Oden joked. “I just take my time, shoot a couple of hook shots.”
Despite foul trouble that limited him to 23 minutes, Oden had 16 points, four rebounds, two assists, three blocked shots and a steal.
Othello Hunter led the Buckeyes (8-1) with a career-high 17 points and 11 rebounds, while Mike Conley Jr., Oden’s high school teammate in Indianapolis, added 12 points and five assists. Ivan Harris had eight points and a career-best 10 rebounds for Ohio State.
Hunter said he benefited from playing against Oden in practice and then playing with him in the game.
“I like it. It’s kind of easy,” he said. “It’s me and him out there and most guys will go for him.”
Cleveland State coach Gary Waters said he and his team prepared for playing against Oden but were surprised by the effectiveness of the 6-9 Hunter, a junior-college transfer in his first year with the Buckeyes.
“The kid who did an outstanding job when he was on the floor was Hunter. We didn’t put a lot of emphasis on him,” Waters said. “Oden’s going to have what he had because he’s got that much potential. But Hunter, we didn’t put that into the equation.”
J’Nathan Bullock had 21 points and Joe Davis added 12 for Cleveland State (5-6), which resorted to a deliberate offensive approach to try to take time off the clock. The Vikings slowed things down considerably after losing Victor Morris to what Waters said might be a broken bone in his right foot.
The Buckeyes outrebounded the Vikings 45-21.
“You’ve got to give that to them,” Waters said. “They just attacked the glass.”
Oden did not play in Ohio State’s first seven games before scoring 14 points and grabbing 10 rebounds a week ago in a 78-58 win over Valparaiso. He is still recovering from surgery last June to repair ligament damage in his right wrist, and wears an elastic brace on his shooting hand.
One of the nation’s most acclaimed recruits, Oden was considered by many to be the top pick in the NBA draft last year if the league had not changed its rules to make high school players wait a year before becoming eligible.
He shot his free throws left-handed but used his right hand almost exclusively when shooting from the field—although five of his baskets came on dunks.
A week earlier, he had complained that he didn’t get a single dunk.
“One time (today) I dunked and then I looked right in the camera and went, ‘AGHHHH!”’ Oden said. “Then I went back on defense. It felt nice.”
The Buckeyes appeared tentative at times, indecisive about whether they were a team that dumped the ball into their big man or pumped up 3s and ran the floor. They did enough of both to run their record to 8-0 at home.
With Oden scoring on a drive, a half-hook and two dunks, the Buckeyes broke out to a 12-0 lead over the opening 3:04 and never trailed.
The lead hovered between 15 and 20 points most of the second half.
The Buckeyes led 41-31 at halftime although Oden watched most of it from the bench. They outscored the Vikings 16-3 when he was playing, but two fouls limited him to a little over 6 minutes of action. He did make the most of that meager time, however, scoring 10 points while hitting all five of his shots.
“I was more comfortable today,” Oden said.