COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Despite the final score, the mood of the Northern Kentucky Norse as they boarded their bus for the long trek home was upbeat.
LaQuinton Ross scored a career-high 22 points to lead cold-shooting No. 4 Ohio State to a 70-43 victory over the Norse on Saturday.
The biggest benefits for NKU may come further down the road.
"We're headed in the right direction," said forward Eshaunte Jones, who had nine points. "We have a lot of young kids who are learning right now, so this game is definitely a building block. Ohio State went to the Final Four last year, and there aren't too many teams that come into this arena and leave with a win."
Jalen Billups led the Norse (0-5) with 11 points and nine rebounds.
Northern Kentucky made its NCAA Division I debut with four games in five days at a tournament in San Diego from Nov. 14-18. The Norse led in the second half of all four games, two of which were four-point defeats.
They didn't back down to the Buckeyes (5-1), either. Ohio State had to finish strong to win the rebounding battle (43-41) while shooting just 38 percent against NKU's pesky defense.
"The game plan was to crash the right side on the boards, and it worked well," Billups said.
The game marked the first time Northern Kentucky had played a Big Ten team. The Norse's last regular-season win against a Division I team came on Jan. 14, 1984, when they upset Tennessee State, 66-64, in Highland Heights, Ky.
The difference against Ohio State was the 20 turnovers which led to 22 points. Buckeyes point guard Aaron Craft was credited with four steals but may have had a hand in at least twice that many.
"In practice we put two guys on our ball handler to try to simulate" being guarded by Craft, coach Dave Bezold said. "He is like having two guys on you."
Northern Kentucky elected to crowd players around Deshaun Thomas, who came in averaging 22.4 points a game and finished with 14, while forcing the Buckeyes to hit outside shots. Ross obliged.
"We kind of figured somebody was going to make shots — we didn't know which one — but to his credit he stepped up and made them," Bezold said. "We knew we were going to give some open looks."
Ohio State struggled to pull away from the Norse through the first 13 minutes. But the Buckeyes built on a 22-16 lead with a 12-0 run. Thomas started it with two free throws and Ross ended the surge with a 3 from the right wing.
Bezold said he was pleased with the way his team played defense and rebounded. The turnovers and shooting 27 percent from the field were big problems, however.
"Those were the two aspects I was pleased with but the turnovers and the shooting percentage have been our woes the whole year so far," he said. "That was the disappointing thing. If we make a few more shots, that gets even tighter."
There was a feeling among all the Norse that they had acquitted themselves well.
"Ohio State has very good inside players, and Thomas is a great scorer," Billups said. "It was good to play against a team like this, and hopefully it's going to make us better in the long run."
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