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Published: Saturday, 11/30/2013

OSU’s Ross back on track

Junior breaks out of slump to lead rout of N. Florida

North Florida's Travis Wallace, right, battles Ohio State's Marc Loving for a loose ball in the first half. Loving scored seven points as the Buckeyes maintained their perfect record. North Florida's Travis Wallace, right, battles Ohio State's Marc Loving for a loose ball in the first half. Loving scored seven points as the Buckeyes maintained their perfect record.

COLUMBUS — The first time that Ohio State's LaQuinton Ross took a shot, North Florida coach Matthew Driscoll knew it was going to be a long night.

Ross broke out of a frigid shooting spell by scoring 17 points Friday night, and the seventh-ranked Buckeyes rode a 19-point first-half run to a 99-64 victory over the overmatched Ospreys.

"He hit that first 3 from the corner and I started thinking to myself, 'Oh, Lord. Here we go,'" said Driscoll, who has known Ross since he was in middle school.

Ross hit 6-of-9 shots from the field and 4-of-7 3-pointers after struggling all year to find his range.

The 6-foot-8 junior with a silky touch had a terrific run in the NCAA tournament a year ago, coming off the bench to give the Buckeyes instant offense on the way to the regional championship game.

This year he was expected to replace departed Big Ten scoring leader Deshaun Thomas, but came in shooting just 22 percent from the field and averaging 6.2 points a game. Over the last the three games he was only 2 for 20 from the field including 1 for 8 behind the arc.

But he came out cool and confident against the Ospreys. He hit all four shots from the field — including both 3-pointers — while picking up 10 points in the opening half as Ohio State built a 48-29 lead.

Buckeyes coach Thad Matta couldn't have been happier to see the ice thaw on Ross' jumper.

"LaQuinton got into a little bit of a groove," he said. "He and I talked the other day. I just said, 'Look, we can't make shots for you. We can't think for you out there on the court.' I told him we were going to put him in positions to be successful. He was probably humbled a little bit the way he's shot the ball the last few games. It was great to see the ball go in for him."

From watching Ross on video, Driscoll said it appeared he was unsure of everything.

"Sometimes when you watch him on tape, it looks like he might not be locked in, like he might not be sure what his role is, what shot he should take," he said. "Is it a good shot? Is it a bad shot? Am I [a guard]? Am I [a forward]? Should I go to the [NBA] early? Should I come back? To his credit, for some reason, he seemed to be locked in."

Ross' hot shooting carried over to the rest of the Buckeyes too. They came in shooting 42 percent on the season but shot 69 percent against North Florida — the sixth-best shooting percentage in program history.

Amir Williams and Amedeo Della each hit career highs for the Buckeyes (6-0), with 18 and 17 points, respectively. Aaron Craft added 16 points, making his first 3-pointer of the season, while Lenzelle Smith, Jr., had 10.

"When guys see other guys make shots, it boosts everyone's confidence," Smith said. "It makes everybody think, 'Why can't I be the guy to make the next shot?' That stuff catches on fire and guys start swinging the ball and getting wide-open shots."

Beau Beech and Dallas Moore each had 14 points and Charles McRoy 11 for North Florida (4-4), which fell to 0-16 against ranked teams and 0-6 against teams in the Top 10.

The Buckeyes made their first eight shots from the field while overcoming a 6-5 deficit with a 19-0 run to take the lead for good.

Craft had three layups, Williams and Smith each had five points, and Ross hit a 3 in the spurt.

North Florida came back to score 14 of the next 18 — Beech hit two 3s and Davenport added one — to cut the lead to 28-20.

But the Buckeyes led 48-29 at the break and then scored 11 of the first 13 points in the second half with Ross scoring four early points.

It was the 100th collegiate win for Craft and Smith, who reached that figure in 119 games — faster than any Ohio State player.

"As I told the guys at shootaround, this game today was about getting those two guys their 100th win," Matta said. "If you stop and think about how quick they got there — 119 games to get 100 wins — it's amazing."

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