After Ohio State was outshot from the field and beaten off the dribble for layups by Delaware, and finished with more turnovers than assists, the best thing the Buckeyes could say about the game was that they won.
That’s what Aaron Craft did after the No. 3 Buckeyes struggled to put away a 76-64 victory last night at Value City Arena.
“We’re playing basketball at Ohio State. The last thing we want to do is take that for granted,” the senior guard said. “Personally, it’s coming to an end really soon for me. We don’t want to take these games and just kind of blow by them. We want to make the most out of every opportunity.
“Whether or not we let one slip by today, we still found a way to win, and that’s what it comes down to. We have to find a way to get better.”
LaQuinton Ross scored 19 points to lead five scorers in double figures for Ohio State (11-0), which shot its worst percentage from the field in a month and its vaunted perimeter defense was sliced apart by Delaware guards Devon Saddler and Jarvis Threatt. Craft, Shannon Scott, Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Amir Williams all spent time on the bench because of foul trouble.
Saddler led Delaware (5-6) with 17 points, and Threatt had 14. The Blue Hens shot 51.6 percent from the field in the second half and limited Ohio State to 40.7 percent for the game, the first time in six games the Buckeyes did not make more than half their shots.
Ohio State coach Thad Matta said they had “practiced very well leading into the game,” but it was not apparent as Delaware led 26-25 with less than 31/2 minutes to play in the first half. Ohio State scored the last 12 points of the half to lead by 11 at the break.
“We came out and we just weren’t as sharp as we needed to be on both ends of the floor,” Matta said. “We’re a team that has to have the juice, we’ve got to have the energy, and the first three minutes of the game, the only guy that was playing out there was Aaron, and he was all over the place. Fortunately for us, the bench came in and gave us some really, really good minutes.”
Smith finished with 14 points, Craft 12 and Williams 11 points and 12 rebounds for his third double-double of the season. But with those three on the bench and Sam Thompson, Amedeo Della Valle and Trey McDonald in their place, the Buckeyes built a 16-point lead midway through the second half that was enough to weather a determined Delaware lineup.
Della Valle had 10 points and two blocked shots in 15 minutes, freshman Marc Loving had six points and four rebounds in 10 minutes, and Thompson and McDonald combined for nine rebounds.
“Our bench really saved us,” Craft said. “Those guys played great and came in with great energy when some of our starters didn’t. Sometimes, that’s what it takes.”
Four straight points by Delaware reduced its deficit to 68-60 with 1:48 to play. But a corner jumper by Smith ended the surge, and Smith and Craft made six free throws in the final minute to secure the win.
“I thought our guys didn’t shrink from the moment,” Delaware coach Monte Ross said. “Our first-shot defense was probably the best we’ve played all year.”
Delaware’s other five losses include one by four points at No. 8 Villanova and one by five points at Notre Dame.
Ohio State’s next game is against Notre Dame on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden in New York. It is the last of the Buckeyes’ four games in the Gotham Classic.
“I think our guys will be ready to play,” Matta said. “Our job is to get these guys back focused (on) what we do to win basketball games.”