By Rusty Miller
COLUMBUS: LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith Jr. each scored 18 points to lead No. 3 Ohio State past North Dakota State 79-62 on Saturday night.
Freshman Mark Loving had a career-high 12 points, and Sam Thompson also had 12. Aaron Craft added six points and seven assists for the Buckeyes, who shot 53 percent from the field.
The game was part of the BlackRock Gotham Classic.
Taylor Braun led the Bison (7-4) with 21 points, while Marshall Bjorklund had 12 and Lawrence Alexander 10. NDSU shot 42 percent from the field and was outrebounded 36-26.
The Bison were coming off a 73-69 victory at Notre Dame on Wednesday. It was the program’s first win against an ACC team, and it came against a Fighting Irish squad that was 124-10 at home over the last six-plus seasons.
In that game, Bjorklund went 11-of-14 from the field for 26 points — the second-best scoring game of his career. Lawrence Alexander added 16 points and a career-high 14 rebounds.
Down by as many as 19 points against the Buckeyes, the Bison went on a 7-2 run to pull within 14 midway through the second half.
But Craft came up with a loose ball and fed Thompson, who was thrown to the floor by Bjorklund.
Thompson hit both free throws after the flagrant foul, and then on the resulting possession, Craft lobbed an alley-oop to Thompson for a dunk that brought the crowd to its feet.
Loving then hit back-to-back 3s and the lead was back up to 65-43 with 8½ minutes left.
Ohio State shot 52 percent from the field in building 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 free throw. Off another miss, Craft drove the lane and then twisted to fire a pass from underneath the basket to Thompson in the right 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.
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.
It was the first meeting between the teams.