Ohio State coach Thad Matta liked how his team responded to its first challenge of the young season. He's expecting another such situation Sunday in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off tournament versus Washington at Uncasville, Conn.
The fourth-ranked Buckeyes (2-0) had dealt with little adversity leading up to Saturday's contest against Rhode Island. Their scheduled outdoor season-opening game versus Marquette in the Carrier Classic in South Carolina was canceled due to condensation on the court on the USS Yorktown, and Albany put up little resistance last Sunday in an 82-60 romp as Ohio State made 12 3-pointers and shot 57.1 percent overall.
That may be why Matta was pleased the Buckeyes grinded out a 69-58 victory over the Rams - who had a sizable fan contingent make the 40-mile drive to Mohegan Sun Arena - on Saturday night, pulling away over the final seven minutes as DeShaun Thomas finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds. Aaron Craft sparked the game-breaking spurt on both ends of the court, hitting a 3-pointer and a coming up with a key steal that led to Thomas hitting two free throws to give Ohio State a double-digit lead that wouldn't be threatened.
Now the Buckeyes will play an inconsistent but physically talented Washington squad that has shown flashes of brilliance but yet to play a complete 40-minute game.
''We're going to know a lot more about our basketball team at 6:30 then we did coming into this tournament," Matta said. ''I think this will be good for our team in terms of growth.''
Matta, though, has plenty of talented players as known entities. Thomas has scored 44 points the first two games, Craft is 7 for 13 from 3-point range and fellow guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. is shooting 60 percent (12 for 20).
''We didn't panic, we kept fighting, kept getting into it,'' Craft said. ''It was good just to see where our team is.''
Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar isn't too sure where his team is given its rollercoaster ride through three games. The Huskies (2-1) were stunned by that same Great Danes team the Buckeyes routed in Columbus, and then alternated 20 minutes of brilliance with 20 minutes of bumbling before pulling out an 84-73 overtime victory over Seton Hall in Saturday's other game.
Scott Suggs hit two critical 3-pointers in the extra period and finished with 15 points. Washington shot over 60 percent in the first half en route to a 49-33 lead at the break before needing to rally in the second half after falling behind by six.
''Given a second chance, I was confident we could do it,'' Suggs said. ''We were fortunate to come out on top.''
The 6-foot-6 guard may be instrumental in Washington's chances for pulling an upset. He played just two minutes of Friday's loss due to a concussion, and Romar is counting on the senior - who is 6 for 9 from 3-point range this season and hitting on a 42.0 percent clip for his career - to make an impact.
''At the end, he played like a true senior, hit big shots for us and played good defense,'' Romar said. ''He makes a difference.''
Senior center Aziz N'Diaye had 14 points and nine rebounds, narrowly missing his third consecutive double-double, and is averaging 12.3 points and 12.0 rebounds.
Washington leads the all-time series 8-3, but this is the first game between the teams since a 67-63 win by the Huskies on Dec. 1, 1972.
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