TERRY GILLIAM / AP Enlarge
COLUMBUS - For the first time as a collegian, B.J. Mullens was a force.
The 7-foot freshman, getting the most playing time of his brief career, scored 19 points to lead No. 15 Ohio State past UNC-Asheville 83-59 last night.
"It's definitely coming easier," Mullens said. "As the season goes on, it's going to come a lot easier."
Considered one of the top big man recruits in the nation, the Columbus native has been taking baby steps. He had never played more than 20 minutes nor scored more than 11 points.
But with coach Thad Matta trying out various combinations against an overmatched and undersized opponent, Mullens dominated. He was 8-of-11 from the field, including six dunks, and added eight rebounds and three blocked shots.
"He's growing into it. He's getting better," Matta said. "It's the consistency. He did a better job on his post-ups, he did a better job on his finishes, he moved on penetration, and was a little more active defensively."
Evan Turner had 17 points, freshman William Buford added a career-high 16, and Dallas Lauderdale had 11 for the Buckeyes (9-0).
John Williams had 10 points for the Bulldogs (4-8). Reid Augst, Asheville's leading scorer at 14.5 points a game, didn't score until hitting a 3-pointer three minutes into the second half and finished with four points.
Ohio State has won 15 straight games, dating to an 84-66 victory over Asheville in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament last season on the way to winning the title.
The Buckeyes had a 17-4 lead after 6 1/2 minutes, but with Turner picking up two fouls and Matta experimenting with lineups, the Bulldogs clawed their way back. They pulled to 29-24 with a 12-2 run before Ohio State reeled off 12 straight points at the end of the first half and beginning of the second to pull away.
The Buckeyes scored the final eight points of the half to lead 37-24, with Mullens leading the way with 13 points.
Mullens had a dunk and Buford hit a basket to stretch the lead at the outset of the second half, and the Buckeyes went on to lead by as many as 29.
Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach said the Mullens he saw in person bore no resemblance to the one he had seen on tape.
"He's more mobile than I saw on tape in their zone attack," he said. "He's willing to have some patience. He's rangier than I thought."
For the third straight season, Matta is working with a team comprised almost entirely of freshmen and sophomores. Two years ago, freshmen Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr., and Daequan Cook all went in the first round of the NBA draft, necessitating another makeover. So last season's team was built around senior Jamar Butler and freshman 7-footer Kosta Koufos. Butler graduated and Koufos jumped to the NBA.
Now the Buckeyes don't have a senior on the roster and recently lost junior captain David Lighty to a broken foot. Most of the playing time is going to first and second-year players.
That's why Matta said he couldn't afford to let his team take too much time off over the holiday. The Buckeyes get just a short break before they report back for an 8 p.m. practice on Christmas Eve to start preparing for Saturday's home game against West Virginia.
"It does bother me that we have to come back and practice. As I told these guys, make sure if you do get home that you cherish the time you get with your families," Matta said.
"But it's also a part of our responsibility."
NO. 24 MICHIGAN 76,
FLORIDA-GULF COAST 59
ANN ARBOR - DeShawn Sims had 20 points and a career-high 18 rebounds to lead Michigan to its fourth straight victory.
Kelvin Grady added 14 points for the Wolverines (9-2), who moved into the Top 25 yesterday for the first time since February, 2006.
Florida-Gulf Coast (4-8) trailed 39-18 at halftime but got as close as 57-49 late in the second half before Michigan pulled away.
Delvin Franklin had 19 points and Reed Baker, who transferred from Michigan after the 2006-07 season, added 16 for the Eagles.
Florida-Gulf Coast cut the lead to 57-49 after Reed Baker's three-point play with five minutes left, but Sims answered with a dunk and Laval Lucas-Perry added a 3-pointer to push Michigan's lead back into double digits for good.42.28188 -83.74848