CLEVELAND —Texas-San Antonio thought it had a good enough game plan Friday night to stay close to Ohio State and maybe become the first No. 16 seed to knock off a No. 1 seed.
The Roadrunners were wrong — really wrong.
UTSA tried to hold the ball on offense in an attempt to limit the Buckeyes’ possessions, and used a tight zone on defense to try and render freshman center Jared Sullinger helpless.
But as the Roadrunner defenders sucked in on Sullinger, the perimeter opened up and Ohio State’s shooters blistered UTSA early and often. The Buckeyes pulled away late in the first half, then cruised to a 75-46 victory in their NCAA Tournament opener.
Junior guard William Buford had the early hot hand, making all three of his 3-pointers in the first 12 minutes of the game. Senior guard Jon Diebler added four threes and David Lighty and Deshaun Thomas each finished with a pair.
Even rarely seen freshman Lenzelle Smith Jr. hit one in the closing minutes of the game.
“It’s what we do, we shoot threes for a living,” Sullinger said. “We’re out here with Jon Diebler and Will Buford and Dave Lighty and Aaron Craft … I mean (6-foot-8) Dallas (Lauderdale) could shoot a few threes too if he wanted to, because we were wide open on the 3-point line.
“As far as frustration (from being limited by the zone), no, I didn’t have none. Because I knew our shooters were going to take care of that.”
The shooting was fantastic. The Buckeyes made 29 of their 52 shots (55.8 percent) and made 12 of their 24 3-point shots (50 percent).
But they also outrebounded the Roadrunners by 11 (35-26), and had 26 assists on their 29 made shots. UTSA finished with six assists.
“That’s something we take pride in, it’s something we’ve been doing all year,” Diebler said of the assists. “I think we just really did a good job of moving the ball. It was just a great overall game — very unselfish.”
As the long shots kept finding their way into the basket, the Roadrunners zone began to expand. That’s when Sullinger went to work.
The 6-9, 280-pound center began to get great entry passes from the perimeter players — short banked jumper, layup and dunk. He caused a pair of Roadrunners turnovers by tipping away the inbounds passes. He also beat UTSA triple-teams under the basket three times for baskets.
“He’s extremely productive, and I think with what he’s done over the course of 35 games he’s commanded a lot of respect,” Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said. “You kind of gotta choose what you’re going to do against him. I thought he was very effective today when we threw it down to him of finishing around the basket.
“He’s just a great player.”
The Buckeyes also showed off their defensive prowess during the blowout victory. They only allowed the Roadrunners to shoot 34 percent for the game — 23.5 percent from behind the arc — and held sophomore guard Melvin Johnson, who scored 29 points in UTSA’s opening win in the tournament against Alabama State, to just five points on 1-of-9 shooting.
“I think their size affected Melvin — he weighs 165 pounds soaking wet,” Roadrunners coach Brooks Thompson said. “He’s playing against bigger, more physical guys and that’s going to happen.
“But early, when we were holding the ball, he had a couple of open threes that he missed. He would normally knock those down.”
Ohio State will be hoping for repeat performances on offense and defense when it faces No. 8 seed George Mason on Sunday. The Buckeyes already know they’ll have another partisan crowd on hand to cheer them on.
“It was awesome today,” Diebler said. “I think if it’s possible to get the amount of Ohio State fans again for the next game, that would be great. It helped us a lot and felt like a home game.
“We’ve been saying all year that we’ve got the best fans in the country. And being fortunate enough to play in Cleveland in our home state, it’s good for us.”
Contact Shaun Bennett at (440) 329-7137 or email@example.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.