Buckeyes Seeking Balance

As Ohio State earned a season-opening win against North Carolina A&T, its two post players put up pretty big numbers. But with Jared Sullinger and Dallas Lauderdale hoping to put together prolific seasons, A&T's head coach pointed to the duo as a part of the offense that could be taken away.

Jerry Eaves had it all figured out. Seated in Value City Arena following his team's season-opening 102-61 loss to Ohio State on Nov. 12, the head coach for North Carolina A&T was asked for his thoughts on the Buckeyes.

After first acknowledging that he obviously did not have the players required to make it happen, the seventh-year coach offered the best plan for defeating the No. 4 team in the nation. It starts with defending post players Dallas Lauderdale and Jared Sullinger.

"When the Big Ten season starts and the grind comes, we'll have to see if Sullinger and Lauderdale can score in the paint as well as they did on us," the coach said. "As long as they get interior scoring consistently, I think they'll be very good, but if a team can make them stay perimeter and rebound the ball it could be a tougher season."

In the 102-61 victory, both OSU big men recorded double-doubles. Sullinger had 19 points and 14 rebounds in his first college game while Lauderdale came two blocks shy of a triple double. He finished with 13 rebounds and 12 points.

Eaves said his team's style of play allowed the two big men to have ample opportunities. Entering the game knowing his only chance for victory was to hold the ball and try to shorten the game, the A&T coach said he instead opted to better prepare his team to play the style it will attempt to use during the season by speeding up the course of the game.

The Aggies pressed the Buckeyes for much of the game, giving OSU's big men some easy looks at the basket. However, Eaves said he feels that approach could be successful with a different roster – say, one the Buckeyes might face when Big Ten play begins.

"Lauderdale scored against my press on the lob dunks," he said. "Teams are not going to spread themselves out like that in the conference without big-enough people to contest those lobs. When you take those away from him, the offensive presence that he had today would not be there. That may be something that could be a factor down the road to where they could have to be more of a perimeter team."

Although that might seem like a weakness, the Buckeyes have largely been a perimeter-oriented team under head coach Thad Matta's direction. As a junior, Lauderdale was OSU's only post presence and his average of 6.5 points per contest ranked last among the starters.

Last year, the offense flowed through Evan Turner at the point guard position. This season, senior guard Jon Diebler said it will be harder to prevent the Buckeyes from scoring in the post.

"I think it might because having two bigs down there is going to put more pressure on teams," he said. "We can go a lot of different ways with our line up. We've got a lot of playmakers outside as well. They both really compliment each other. It's really hard for defenses to match up with us."

Both Sullinger and Lauderdale started the game but primarily played in relief of each other as it went on. Matta said that their playing time will be dictated on a game-by-game basis and usually decided upon near the 16-minute mark of the first half.

For example, Sullinger would have seen more extensive first-half action against A&T had he not picked up two fouls. It is just one example of how Matta said he feels his team might look different on any given night.

Asked if this year's team might be less reliant on scoring from the perimeter than its predecessors, Matta said he was not sure.

"I think every game is going to be a little bit different," he said. "You'd like to be in the situation where you can play with it through spurts of the game of going inside or outside. I think at a lot of times it's going to be on the matchups. Hopefully we'll continue to build a great base for both inside and out because I think that's the best way to play basketball."

One factor working in Eaves' favor Friday night was the fact that the Buckeyes were not especially prolific from deep. OSU went 5 for 22 (22.7 percent) from three-point range in the victory, led by Diebler's 3 for 8 performance. All of his shot attempts were from behind the arc.

As a team, the Buckeyes hit 39.0 of their three-point attempts last season thanks to the efforts of the likes of William Buford and David Lighty in addition to Diebler. Each of them hit on better than 38.3 percent from deep.

"Buford, Lighty, Diebler, they're going to get their shots," Eaves said. "You're not going to be able to stop perimeter players from getting their shots, but I could see a team limit their inside presence to where they kept them six, seven, eight feet from the basket to where they wouldn't be as efficient as they were today. That's probably the only weakness that I could see."

From Matta's viewpoint, that is not much of a weakness.

"I think Dallas is much improved with his skill set and what he's bringing to the table and how he's rebounding the basketball," the coach said. "Jared has shown he can score in a lot of different ways. I do think we have more of an inside thrust to us than we've had in a few years."

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