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By Rusty Miller | AP
COLUMBUS -- For the first four games of the season, just about everybody was playing well for Ohio State except LaQuinton Ross.
On Saturday, he was one of the few Buckeyes who had a good game -- and it made a world of difference.
Ross scored four of his career-high 23 points in a 10-0 second-half run, leading No. 5 Ohio State past Central Connecticut State 74-56.
"I knew I was going to come around eventually," Ross said after hitting 9-of-13 shots from the field and adding six rebounds and an assist. "I've been playing basketball all my life. Everybody goes through situations, struggles, out there on the court. It was just something I had to get through. I knew I would get through it eventually."
After shooting 22 percent from the field at the start of the season, Ross is shooting 63 percent over his last three games.
On a day when the Buckeyes (8-0) were lethargic at both ends, his shooting kept them in the lead and eventually put the game out of reach.
"Our mindset wasn't right," said Lenzelle Smith, who scored 12 of his 17 points in the second half. "It was just us. We weren't ready to play when we came out of the tunnel."
The Blue Devils (2-6) certainly were. Their 3-2 zone befuddled the Buckeyes. They got back quickly to snuff Ohio State's transition game. And they took their time on offense, working for good shots while shooting 46 percent for the game.
"We came in here knowing Ohio State is as good as any team in the country," coach Howie Dickenman said. "We wanted to gain some respect; I thought we gained some respect."
The Buckeyes had won the only previous meeting between the teams in the first round of the 2007 NCAA tournament. The top-ranked Buckeyes, behind Greg Oden's 19 points and 10 rebounds, beat the Blue Devils 78-57. Ohio State would advance to the national championship game, losing to defending champion Florida.
No. 5 OHIO ST. 74, CCSU 56
CCSU (2-6)--Drakeford 6-10 0-0 12, Peel 1-4 0-0 2, McMillan 3-5 0-0 7, Cumberlander 4-8 0-0 8, Hunter 4-7 0-0 9, Vinales 4-12 0-0 8, Mobley 1-3 8-8 10, Allen 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 23-50 8-8 56.
OHIO ST. (8-0)--Ross 9-13 5-6 23, A. Williams 5-7 1-2 11, Scott 3-4 1-4 7, Craft 3-5 0-0 7, Smith Jr. 6-12 2-2 17, Loving 0-1 1-2 1, Thompson 3-6 0-0 6, Della Valle 0-7 2-2 2, McDonald 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-55 12-18 74.
Halftime--Ohio St. 38-29. 3-Point Goals--CCSU 2-11 (Hunter 1-2, McMillan 1-2, Cumberlander 0-1, Mobley 0-2, Vinales 0-4), Ohio St. 4-17 (Smith Jr. 3-6, Craft 1-2, Scott 0-1, Thompson 0-1, Loving 0-1, Ross 0-2, Della Valle 0-4). Fouled Out--None. Rebounds--CCSU 29 (Hunter 6), Ohio St. 28 (Ross 6). Assists--CCSU 9 (Vinales 4), Ohio St. 10 (Scott 4). Total Fouls--CCSU 16, Ohio St. 12. Technicals--McMillan, Thompson. A--13,640.
The Blue Devils scored six of the last eight points in the first half to cut a 14-point deficit to 38-29.
"It was sarcasm and angry at the same time," Ross said of coach Thad Matta's halftime talk in the locker room. "He tried to keep cool because he feels like we're a veteran team and some of the mistakes we were making we shouldn't have made. I know for a fact he was upset. I think the whole team knew it."
Ahead 38-29 at the break, the Buckeyes had difficulty finishing off the pesky Blue Devils.
The lead hovered around 10 points until Ohio State broke free from a 49-41 lead with a quick run. It started with a steal by Amedeo Della Valle that led to Smith's dunk. After a CCSU miss, Sam Thompson hit a baseline jumper and, following a Blue Devils turnover, Aaron Craft fought through the traffic in the lane for a spinning layup that made it 55-41 -- matching Ohio State's biggest lead to that point.
Soon after, the Buckeyes forced a shot-clock violation and Ross muscled inside for a bucket. He then stole the ball near midcourt and drove coast to coast for another layup and an 18-point lead.
The Blue Devils never seriously threatened again.
Faronte Drakeford led them with 12 points and Matt Mobley added 10.
CCSU outrebounded the Buckeyes 29-28 and didn't back down in the paint at either end.
Matta said he hoped his team gained from the game.
"Honestly, I said this is one we have to learn from it, but by the same token you have to wash it down the drain in the shower," he said he told the team afterward. "We must be a better basketball team (in our next game) than we were today."
A crowd of 13,640 was as reserved as the Buckeyes most of the game. Maybe it was the lack of students, a midlevel opponent, the frosty weather outside or Ohio State's impending Big Ten football championship game on Saturday night, but there were long stretches when the crowd was relatively quiet.
Smith was asked if he would be watching the Buckeyes' second-ranked football team go for the conference title in Indianapolis against Michigan State.
"Absolutely!" he said with a laugh.