Men's basketball | Ohio State 95, Iona 70: Lightning round

Playing Iona’s up-tempo style, Ohio State wins ninth straight by scoring 34 points in transition to set season high for points; Iowa State awaits

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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Kyle Robertson | Dispatch
Aaron Craft makes a diving save that was one of the highlights against Iona.

DAYTON — Watching video of Ohio State, Iona coach Tim Cluess didn’t see much evidence of the Buckeyes playing at a high tempo. The Big Ten is a witness protection program for speed.

What little Cluess did see, though, gave him pause.

“I said to my coaching staff and my players that if they ever played at our pace, they may just really, really give us a problem,” he said.

Ohio State did that last night, and in the process ran the nation’s second-highest-scoring team out of the gym.

The Buckeyes outscored Iona 34-11 in transition and 29-9 off turnovers in a 95-70 victory in their NCAA Tournament opener in University of Dayton Arena.

“We ran into a buzz saw,” Cluess said.

Deshaun Thomas scored 24 points on his son Deshaun Jr.’s first birthday, and Sam Thompson had career highs of 20 points and 10 rebounds, as Ohio State had its highest scoring output of the season and kept the Gaels 10.7 points below their average.The Buckeyes (27-7), the No. 2 seed in the West Regional behind Gonzaga and winner of nine consecutive games, will play Iowa State in a third-round game on Sunday. The winner advances to the Sweet 16 and a regional semifinal on Thursday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.Tavon Sledge led Iona (20-14) with 20 points. Guard Lamont “MoMo” Jones, the nation’s third-leading scorer coming into the game with a 23-point average, was limited to nine.

The day before the game, Jones said he didn’t think Ohio State’s defensive dynamos, Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott, would be “something we’ll have a problem with.” Craft had six steals and, with Scott, Thompson and Lenzelle Smith Jr., limited Jones to three field goals on 14 attempts.

Craft said he had heard a few quotes from Iona players but “nothing specific” directed at him.

“We didn’t want to make it a one-on-one type game,” Craft said. “This was about our team and how we needed to play defense together. We did a good job of taking them out of their offense and kind of making them have to go one-on-one sometimes.”

Jones said he would give credit where it was due. “Can’t knock the guy,” he said. “He played some good defense.”

Ohio State feasted on Iona’s turnovers to build a 27-8 lead less than 11 minutes into the game, gave up all but four points of the lead, then regained momentum with a 6-0 finish to the first half and a 9-0 start to the second. Thompson had 10 of the 15 points, including two dunks in transition that had fans standing and roaring as the lead grew to 52-33.

Thompson said he thought the Buckeyes’ speed and athleticism surprised the Gaels.

“Defensively, we were able to get some stops and get out in the open court off of missed shots and get some easy ones early on, and I don’t know if they were expecting that or not,” he said. “We set the tone.”

A seven-point run brought Iona to 52-40 with 17:11 to play. Thompson had four more points in a 12-2 run that boosted the margin to 22 points, however, and the Gaels did not get closer than 18 again.

“We said going in, ‘If they want to run, let’s run,’ ” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said.

“Our biggest concern was we weren’t going to trade baskets with them. What happens a lot of times is we say we’re going to run with them and we don’t care if they score. That was not going to happen tonight. They got us in the first half on two transition baskets and that was a huge topic of discussion at halftime.”

What Matta liked most about the pace was that the Buckeyes had 25 assists and only 10 turnovers. Scott and Craft had 17 assists and four turnovers between them.

“We made really good decisions,” Matta said.

bbaptist@dispatch.com

@BBaptistHoops

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