COLUMBUS, Ohio – North Dakota State coach Saul Phillips preferred to talk about his team's previous game.
Certainly not a 79-62 loss at No. 3 Ohio State on Saturday night.
"Who wants to talk about our game against Notre Dame? I'll take any question you have on that," he said with a laugh, referring to the Bison's 73-69 road win on Wednesday night.
North Dakota State did not have much time to relish that victory against a team that was 124-10 in the last seven seasons at home. It had to move on to a matchup with the team Phillips voted No. 1 in the coaches' poll.
"Listen, you have an historic game like that, then a pretty quick turnaround," he said. "And you play a team that is just flat out very, very good if not awesome."
The Buckeyes (9-0) jumped on the Bison (7-4) right from the start and never let up. LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith Jr. each had 18 points, Marc Loving added a career-high 12 and Sam Thompson also had 12.
The Buckeyes were on high alert after watching extensive video clips of what NDSU had done to Notre Dame in an earlier game of the BlackRock Gotham Classic.
"Probably the best thing for us was that they beat Notre Dame and that really got our attention," said Aaron Craft, who broke Ohio State's record for career assists while putting up six points, seven assists and four steals. "Not that we try to really overlook anyone, but we got to sit down and see them play at their best. And we wanted to come out and play our best."
Taylor Braun led the Bison with 21 points, while Marshall Bjorklund had 12 and Lawrence Alexander 10. NDSU shot 42 percent from the field, compared to 53 percent for Ohio State, and was outrebounded 36-26.
"They had some really big guys that can get up and that altered some shots inside," Braun said. "I don't think we expected them to shoot as well as they did from the 3-point line. That was a real difference in the game."
The Buckeyes were 6 for 11 behind the arc in the first half and finished 10 of 20. The threat of hitting outside shots opened up things underneath.
Ohio State had a 41-28 lead at the break. Ross overcame a sluggish start with 13 points while Smith had 10.
The Buckeyes closed the first half with a 7-0 burst.
Ross got a pass from Craft and buried a 3. After a Bison miss, Thompson hit a foul shot. Off another miss, Craft drove the lane and then twisted to fire a pass from underneath the basket to Thompson in the left corner. He put up a 3 that caught only net with 1.7 seconds left.
That final pass tied Craft with Jamar Butler for the career record at Ohio State with 579 assists.
Then on the Buckeyes' first possession of the second half, Craft found Ross all alone under the basket for the record-breaker and a 43-28 lead.
NDSU never got closer than 14 points in the second half.
"I was up all night a couple of nights ago trying to find a weakness," Phillips said. "And then I realized they really don't have a lot (of them)."
The Bison were playing a ranked Division I opponent for only the seventh time. They've lost the last five since beating No. 13 Wisconsin and No. 9 Marquette in 2006.
"We knew what to expect, there are some pretty big guys out there," Bjorklund said. "It's the Big Ten and they are going to be a physical team."
Phillips said he couldn't wait to get home — except for the fact that he and his players were trying to avoid frostbite back in Fargo.
The Bison played eight of their first 11 games on the road.
"We're on the road non-stop," Phillips said. "Our last four wins have been in three different time zones in less than a week's time. So, yeah, it's crazy.
"We're flying commercial, by the way, just so you know. I'm racking up those frequent-flyer miles."
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