Philadelphia, PA – Deshaun Thomas had 25 points and 10 rebounds, and fourth-ranked Ohio State pulled away late for a 69-58 victory over Rhode Island in a Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic matchup from Mohegan Sun Arena.
Lenzelle Smith, Jr. added 15 points and Aaron Craft finished with 13 points and four assists to help the Buckeyes (2-0) advance to Sunday's championship game of the Naismith Bracket. Ohio State will face Washington, an 84-73 overtime winner over Seton Hall on Saturday.
Xavier Munford finished with 16 points for Rhode Island (0-3), which had a seven-point lead late in the first half and trailed by only two with under 13 1/2 minutes left before fading down the stretch.
"It was exciting to play with a lot of spirit and a lot of fight against a top-5, national-caliber program that has a great chance to play in the Final Four," said Rams head coach Dan Hurley. "Based on where we are as a program, I couldn't be happier with the way we fought, the way we competed."
The Rams stood toe-to-toe with the heavily favored Buckeyes early on and opened up a 22-15 advantage after putting together a 9-2 run that featured some sharp outside shooting.
Nikola Malesevic began the spurt by knocking down a 3-pointer and Andre Malone buried a pair of triples within a 35-second span to account for the 7-point margin with 8:27 remaining in the half.
Ohio State would dominate the rest of the period, however, outscoring Rhode Island by a 15-4 count to take a 30-26 edge into the locker room.
Eight of Craft's 10 first-half points came during the flurry, which he capped with a driving layup that followed Smith's long-range basket that put the Buckeyes up 28-26 with 1:47 to go in the half.
Ohio State appeared ready to break open the contest after Thomas' second- chance bucket with 14:44 left made the score 38-31, but URI's Mike Powell drained a 3-pointer before feeding Munford for a fast-break dunk that pulled the Rams within two a minute later.
Rhode Island was down 44-40 at the 10-minute mark when the Buckeyes finally began to seize control. An 11-4 run that Thomas ended with two made free throws after Craft nailed a critical 3-pointer pushed Ohio State's lead to 11 with 6:26 to go, and the Rams would get no closer than nine points the rest of the way.
The Buckeyes put the game out of reach when Smith hit a triple with 2:11 left and Sam Thompson threw down a dunk around a minute later for a 69-56 score.
"We're just going to mark it down as a win," said Thomas. "We know we're a team that can get better each and every day."
Ohio State went 8-of-19 from 3-point range for the game after making good on 12-of-20 tries from long distance in its season-opening 82-60 win over Albany last Sunday ... Buckeyes head coach Thad Matta improved to 4-0 all-time against Rhode Island, with the first three wins coming during his previous tenure at Atlantic 10 member Xavier ... Malesevic and Malone each had 11 points for Rhode Island, which has now dropped 20 straight matchups against top-25 foes. The Rams' last victory over a ranked opponent came on Dec. 2, 1998, a 70-63 decision over No. 25 Utah in the Great Eight Tournament.