Ohio State forward Sam Thompson shoots against Iona guard Sean Armand (22) in the second half. Thompson scored a career-high 20 points, including six points on thunderous dunks. The Buckeyes scored a season high in points.
DAYTON — So this is what life looks like on the other side of the Big Ten fence.
The Ohio State basketball team’s 95-70 rout of 15th-seeded Iona in Friday night’s NCAA tournament opener was the equivalent of tearing out of rush-hour gridlock and onto the open Autobahn.
In a game billed as a collision between the Buckeyes’ muscled defense and the nation’s second-highest scoring offense of Iona, OSU played up to the underdog’s pace — then only kicked it up further.
The Buckeyes gave the scarlet-drenched crowd at Dayton Arena an end-to-end aerial show, their seven blocks and eight steals — including six by Aaron Craft — allowing them to hold a public viewing of the dunk contest they staged in practice a day earlier. Sam Thompson alone had three alley-oop slams as part of his career-high 20-point and 10-rebound night.
Set free after 21 games in the grinding Big Ten, OSU (27-7) scored 34 fast-break points en route to a season-high offensive output.
"Oh man, it was crazy," guard Lenzelle Smith said. "A little part of me wishes the Big Ten was like that. We played a little defense and a lot of offense. We were able to shoot the ball a lot of times."
Add in junior star Deshaun Thomas shaking his slump with a game-high 24 points on 8-of-12 shooting, and it was a best-case scenario for a Buckeyes team that has now won nine straight entering Sunday’s third-round game against 10th-seeded Iowa State.
Iona, meanwhile, endured just what coach Tim Cluess feared when he watched film of Ohio State. While the guard-heavy Gaels’ breakneck pace was effective against mid-major competition — they averaged more than 80 points a game this season — he knew it could be undermined entirely by the Buckeyes’ athleticism.
"My coaching staff and our players thought that if [the Buckeyes] ever played at our pace," he said, "they may really, really give us a problem because I thought they could run in transition better than we can."
And they could. In this month of madness that has given us three 15-over-2 stunners the last two years — with Georgetown’s loss Friday night to Florida Gulf Coast the latest red flag — the Buckeyes did little messing around. They opened a 27-8 lead, withstood a late-first half rush that cut their advantage to four, then vanquished doubt early in the second half.
"Fortunately for us, they had a gameplan of coming out here and trying to run the score up on us," Smith said. "But they saw a real defense today. We came out and punched them early, and we shut down their offense."
The Buckeyes limited Iona to 35.4 percent shooting while raising their own offensive odds by simply shoving it through the rim — the high-flying act reaching its literal pinnacle on a first-half alley-oop from Shannon Scott to Thompson on the baseline. The 6-foot-7 sophomore with a registered 46-inch vertical leap reached backward for the pass high above the rim before slamming it in with his right hand.
"It would be a little easier if Sam could jump a little higher," cracked Craft, who added four points and seven assists. "Sometimes you’ve got to pinpoint passes for him."
Even the old-school Matta could appreciate the show.
''It's something kids thoroughly enjoy doing, probably to a fault,'' Matta said. ''I think guys growing up would probably rather be able to dunk than run a clean pick-and-roll.
"The problem that we had early on was our guys watch SportsCenter, and they show 30 seconds of highlights from a game, but our guys never see the other 47:30 of great NBA basketball. So we've tried to scale them down in terms of that. The dunk shot is obviously a crowd-igniter."
For one night, at least, the Buckeyes made sure the highlights never stopped.
Contact David Briggs at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @ DBriggsBlade.