That was fine by the Buckeyes, who rolled to an 85-60 victory.
But it wasn’t so good for coach Thad Matta.
“It’s funny, coming in here in the blizzard, they made me park over by Tommy’s Pizza,” Matta cracked, referring to a landmark pizzeria a half-mile or so from St. John.
Just about everything else went according to plan.
Freshman Jared Sullinger scored 17 points and the Buckeyes came out of the blocks fast to beat the turnover-prone Catamounts. Dallas Lauderdale, William Buford and Deshaun Thomas each added 13 points and Jon Diebler 10 for the Buckeyes (8-0).
Sullinger was coming off a record-setting 40-point outing in Thursday night’s 75-64 win over IUPUI. He set an Ohio State mark for points by a freshman, in addition to records for free throws attempted (23) and made (16). It was the most points scored by a Buckeye since Dennis Hopson had 41 in 1986.
In Sunday’s game, he was just happy to play in an historic venue where Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek, Jim Cleamons, Bill Hosket, Hopson and Jim Jackson starred.
“I love it. It’s loud,” Sullinger said while sniffling because of a bad cold. “It’s way smaller than (home court Value City Arena), but St. John has a lot of history here. I was just happy to be a part of it.”
Ohio State broke free from an early tie with an 11-0 run and were never headed. They led by as many as 35 points before substituting freely.
Western Carolina coach Larry Hunter, the former coach at Ohio University, came away impressed with the Buckeyes.
“What I saw on videotape and watching several games was verified in person,” he said. “I really like Thad’s team. They’re a very good passing team, got a very good inside presence, you can’t help away from perimeter people too far because they shoot it so doggone well and they find the open man. They play with a lot of poise.”
Mike Williams led the Catamounts (4-8) with 22 points, while Trey Sumler had 12 and Brandon Boggs 11.
They had 14 turnovers—matching what they average for a game—at halftime. They calmed down to finish with 20 but still remained winless all-time against ranked teams (0-36).
The biggest cheer of the game came late in the half when Ohio State rapidly whipped five passes around and through Western Carolina’s man-to-man defense before Lauderdale jammed off a feed from Buford.
Matta said that was a template for how he wanted his team to play.
“We have a call for that—it’s called unselfishness,” Matta joked. “That to me is what I hope is a blueprint, anytime we can get the ball moving and share it like that. As I told them at halftime, I think each guy touched it twice in that possession and we get a wide-open dunk. With who we have on the floor at times, that’s a great way for us to play.”
Matta was an assistant at Western Carolina when the 16th-seeded Catamounts stretched top-seeded Purdue to the limit before bowing out of the NCAA tournament with a 73-71 loss. It remains one of the closest calls ever for a No. 1 seed, which has never lost a first-round game in the tournament.
Hunter said, other than the outcome, he enjoyed the visit to the 52-year-old arena.
“Someone told me tonight that they were thinking about maybe tearing it down,” he said. “There’s so much tradition and history, so much of Ohio State’s in here. It’s a special facility.”