Ohio State's Aaron Craft (4) passes the ball around Winthrop's Gideon Gamble during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)The Associated Press
Winthrop's Derrick Henry, right, tries to shoot over Ohio State's Lenzelle Smith during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)The Associated Press
Ohio State's Evan Ravenel, left, drives the baseline against Winthrop's Steve Johnson during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)The Associated Press
Winthrop's Larry Brown, right, fouls Ohio State's Evan Ravenel during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)The Associated Press
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Pat Kelsey wasn't looking for a masterpiece.
The Winthrop coach knew the only way his team could keep pace with seventh-ranked Ohio State was to slow the game, play tight defense and hope for the best.
For 33 minutes, the game plan worked.
In the end, Deshaun Thomas scored 21 points — missing nine straight shots at one point and making five in a row at another — to lead the Buckeyes past the Eagles 65-55 on Tuesday night.
"I told our guys, for us to be a good team, our game's got to be muddy," Kelsey said. "They're sure as heck not a work of art. It's like a tractor pull sometimes. But that's who we have to be."
Kelsey wanted his team to get back quickly on defense, to force Ohio State to make multiple passes, to put extra pressure on Thomas and to make open shots at the other end.
Joab Jerome, who had eight points and 10 rebounds, said, "We felt that we competed with them the whole game."
The Buckeyes noticed, too.
"You've got to give Winthrop a lot of credit," Ohio State's point guard Aaron Craft said. "They came in and played a lot harder and a lot tougher than we did tonight."
Ohio State (9-1) led by seven early only to have Winthrop (4-5) take the lead before settling for a 31-30 deficit at the half.
Thomas, however, scored 10 of 12 Ohio State points during one span as the Buckeyes slowly pulled away.
Led by its defense — which gained 17 points off 14 turnovers — Ohio State stretched a 47-44 lead with 10:42 left to a 56-47 advantage with 7:40 remaining.
Even then the Eagles cut what was a 15-point lead down to seven in the final minute.
The Buckeyes, as a whole, were frustrated.
Ohio State likes to rush the ball down the floor, beating an opponent back and getting easy baskets. But Winthrop never allowed them that luxury.
"They got back and met us and were kind of waiting on us," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said.
The Buckeyes kept their poise and things eventually worked out.
"We had 'em, but I didn't really see it on their faces," Jerome said.
Derrick Henry led the Eagles, who had a two-game winning streak stopped, with 12 points.
"We have to be a team that sits down, bows its neck and grits their teeth on the defensive end and we've got to be a team that makes people defend on the other end as well," Kelsey said. "We knew we needed to limit their possessions by getting our rear ends back in transition, crowding the floor and making them play five on five. We did that for most of the game."
The bottom line, he said, was that his team believed it could play with the Buckeyes.
"Sometimes you walk into a game like this with a group of young men, you're playing one of the best teams in the country and you look into a bunch of eyes and it's like, 'We have no chance here tonight,'" Kelsey said. "But those guys just don't believe that. To their credit, they came into the game thinking, 'We're here.'"
Kelsey, an Ohio native who had a large following cheering on the Eagles, also gave an impassioned plea in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School killings last week.
As a father of two daughters, he called on President Barack Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner to mend their differences and do whatever was necessary to prevent another such massacre.
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