COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP)—Ohio State coach Thad Matta chuckled when asked if his team had learned enough in two games to cope with what it will be facing in the next two.
“I hope so,” he said.
Evan Turner followed up his triple-double with 24 points and 17 rebounds and the 16th-ranked Buckeyes recovered from a listless spell to beat James Madison 72-44 on Thursday night in the 2K Sports Classic.
They advance to meet sixth-ranked defending national champion North Carolina in the semifinals next Thursday night in Madison Square Garden. Syracuse and No. 13 California are the other matchup.
“It’s a great challenge, a great opportunity,” Matta said. “It’s not just North Carolina, but four Top 25 teams who are going to the Mecca of basketball in Madison Square Garden. When we come out of there on Friday night, we’ll know a lot more about our team.”
David Lighty added 14 points and William Buford had 12 for the Buckeyes (2-0), who returned all five starters—not counting Lighty who missed most of last season with a broken foot—from a 22-11 team that lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Turner had the program’s second recorded triple-double in Monday night’s opener, going for 14 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists in a 100-60 win over Alcorn State. He finished with four assists and two steals Thursday night.
He said he thought the Buckeyes were as ready as they will ever be to step up in competition.
“We’re all about competing, competing in practice—an attack mentality,” he said. “We’ll be prepared for any situation. It’s another game, another opportunity, another day to get better. (North Carolina) is a new team out there. We’re not really looking at them as national champions. We’re just looking at them as a great team that’s very capable.”
Pierre Curtis had nine points for James Madison (1-0), which was 21-15 last season.
“We were outclassed defensively,” coach Matt Brady said. “Our young kids are going to be good but they’re not on this level right now. Ohio State is experienced, talented, well-coached. They play to the very end of every possession—and we don’t. Until we learn how to do it, we’re going to get beat up a little bit.”
Turner received a standing ovation from a crowd of 11,356 when he left the game with just over 5 minutes remaining.
Dallas Lauderdale, who had missed the exhibition game and the season opener with a broken bone in his hand, also received a nice ovation when he entered the game at the 14:50 mark of the first half. Ohio State’s starting center last season played 13 minutes and had two points and four rebounds.
“I’m fine. It’s just getting back into the flow of the game,” he said. “We got a win, and we know we’ve got a long way to go to get where want to be.”
The Buckeyes broke out to a 10-2 lead in the opening 3 1/2 minutes but then went into a deep freeze, hitting just 3 of their next 17 shots from the field. The Dukes pulled even at 16 on Matt Parker’s 3-pointer with 8:37 left.
But Ohio State finished the half on an 11-5 run. Turner, who had 13 points and eight rebounds at halftime, hit a shot behind the arc with 5 seconds left for a 34-25 lead.
“Dallas said, ‘Shoot it’ three times. I wasn’t going to shoot it, I was going to penetrate and try to find an opening, but he set the screen and said my man was off of me and told me to shoot it,” Turner said.
After the Dukes scored the first point of the second half, the Buckeyes went on a 10-0 run with Jon Diebler and Lighty each hitting a 3. James Madison scored the next four points before Ohio State went on another 10-0 run, this time Lighty scoring five points and Turner three.
“As I told the team afterward, one thing I liked tonight was we did not tie our defense to our offense. Shots weren’t falling like they have but guys continued to defend at a high level,” Matta said. “There were some things going into the game that we felt we needed to take away from James Madison and for the most part we did it.”
The Dukes had won the only previous meeting between the schools, upsetting the Buckeyes 55-48 in the first round of the 1982 NCAA tournament in Charlotte, N.C.