COLUMBUS — A week after shooting as if they were blindfolded, the 10th-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes regained their touch.
Deshaun Thomas scored 17 points and four others also hit double digits as they shot 57 percent from the field in an 87-44 victory over Chicago State on Saturday.
"When we made our first shot today, I turned to the coaches and said, 'Hey, we're 1 for 1. That's 1,000 percent. This is awesome,'" coach Thad Matta said, smiling. "I was pleased with how we shot the ball today."
The game was Ohio State's first since losing 74-66 to No. 6 Kansas a week earlier. In that game, the Buckeyes played good defense and worked to get open on offense but could not hit shots — even when unguarded. They mustered just 31 percent shooting from the field (20 of 65).
Against Chicago State, they hit 33 of 58 shots from the field including 8 of 17 3-pointers (47 percent).
Much of that success came after the Buckeyes had tried to shoot over a Chicago State zone. After a while, however, they decided to go inside more and drive to the basket. That strategy paid huge dividends.
"If you look at the numbers, we shot more game-like shots throughout practice and the week we had off," said point guard Aaron Craft, who ended up with 10 points — his first double-figure scoring game since November. "We're taking shooting a little more seriously."
LaQuinton Ross added 15 points, Lenzelle Smith Jr. had 13, Amedeo Della Valle had a career-high 11 for the Buckeyes (10-2), who complete an eight-game homestand when they host Nebraska in the Big Ten opener on Wednesday.
Ohio State built a 37-24 lead at the half but then completely overwhelmed the Cougars.
"They came out in the second half and they let us know, 'We're the big boys.' They came and let us know, 'We are a Top-10 team,'" Chicago State coach Tracy Dildy said. "The second half was all Ohio State."
Quinton Pippen, a nephew of ex-Chicago Bulls star Scottie Pippen, had 12 points for Chicago State (3-12), which fell to 0-11 away from home with its fourth straight defeat. The Cougars' regular season is half over already with one more game to play in 2012.
They don't get to go home right away, either. They play at Toledo on New Year's Eve. They also play the first two games of 2013 away, at No. 20 UNLV on Jan. 3 and then the Great West Conference opener on Jan. 12 at New Jersey Institute of Technology — capping a seven-game road trip stretching from Oregon to Texas to Nevada and then to New Jersey.
After hitting five of their last six shots from the field to end the half and build that 13-point lead, the Buckeyes opened the second half by making their first four attempts from the field. A 10-2 blitz at the outset of the second half swelled the lead to 47-26.
The Cougars never got closer than 17 points again.
Although Ohio State shot much better from the field, it had an awful day at the free throw line. The Buckeyes managed to make just 13 of 27 free throws. It got so bad there was derisive cheering whenever a player hit a foul shot in the second half.
"I'm very disappointed about it," said Smith, who was 0 for 4 at the line. "It lets me know what I've got to work on. When I step to the line I've got to be able to knock those down."
The Buckeyes will continue to work on their shooting. They also had a bad night from the field in their only other loss, a 73-68 setback at Duke in which they shot just 33 percent from the field.
In a small surprise, 6-foot-11 Amir Williams started at center ahead of the team's only senior, 6-8 Evan Ravenel.
Williams scored four points, had four rebounds, and blocked a shot in 15 minutes. Ravenel had five points, 10 rebounds and an assist in 16 minutes.
"Amir had practiced very well and, truth be told, Evan didn't practice well," Matta said. "From the standpoint of Evan being the only senior on this team, we hold him to a pretty high standard in terms of what we expect from him day in and day out. He's been in college for five years. I'll be honest I loved what he gave us off the bench today."
The game was played on a new hardwood court at Value City Arena. This one features the outline of the state of Ohio underneath the Ohio State logo at midcourt.
Thomas said he believed the Buckeyes were ready for the trials of the Big Ten.
"Yeah, I think we are," he said. "Coach is going to have us ready for the challenge."