Cagers Hoping To Avoid Letdown

Ohio State turned heads Tuesday night with a lopsided road victory against Florida. Now four days later, the Buckeyes get back on the court against UNC Wilmington while hoping to avoid a letdown in the aftermath of a big early-season victory.

In the immediate aftermath of a convincing victory against No. 9 Florida on Tuesday night, Ohio State head coach Thad Matta gave his players a directive in the locker room.

"You're 2-0," he said. "We're at least going to play 31 games this year. We're not even close to being where we need to be."

Seemingly harsh words, but ones that the coach needed to use when addressing his team after the 93-75 victory in front of a national television audience. The No. 4 Buckeyes turned a three-point halftime deficit into a runaway victory, burying the Gators on their home court.

Before tonight's return to action against UNC Wilmington (8 p.m., Big Ten Network), Matta had to immediately try to prevent his team from feeling it had already arrived. Plus, as it turns out, there were already plenty of national pundits ready to make such a proclamation.

Jeff Goodman from proclaimed that this might already be Matta's best overall team. Skip Bayless from ESPN wrote on his Twitter page that the Buckeyes could challenge Duke for a national title come March. Mike DeCourcy from The Sporting News proclaimed this year's team better than the one that proceeded it and included national player of the year Evan Turner.

Before the Buckeyes can take on the Blue Devils, however, they must contend with the likes of the Seahawks tonight. And the Eagles of Morehead State on Tuesday night. And so on.

For freshman Aaron Craft and his classmates, the fact that it took Matta so little time to remind the Buckeyes of what lies ahead was a bit of a surprise.

"We might've been a little surprised at first but then when you think about it, it's the truth," Craft said. "The season is so long. We definitely have to continue to get better and let that resonate in our minds that we have only played two games and we're nowhere near where we need to be at the end of the season."

Matta has long embraced an even-keel mentality to help him cope with the ups and downs of a college basketball season. Regardless of the situation, the OSU coach tries to preach an awareness of the task at hand without being bogged down by the big picture.

For a player like David Lighty, now in his fifth year with the program, the message has almost become old hat.

"You can't dwell on it," he said. "That's college basketball. There's ups and downs all the time. Like coach says, you want to be happy about it but you want to stay even about it throughout the season. That's something that we're going to find out (Saturday)."

OSU's next opponent lacks the name recognition afforded to the Gators. One year removed from a 9-22 season, the Seahawks are 2-1 under newly hired head coach Buzz Peterson.

Lighty said it is realistic to expect no letdown from the Buckeyes.

"That's the sign of a good team, not worrying about who you play," he said. "It's always about yourself and controlling what you can control. For us, it's another chance to go out there and get better and play different competition and show how good that we can be. It's up to us to go out and be prepared for the game and not be worried about who it is. We to worry about what we can control and playing hard."

Matta said he does not have a sense that the win against the Gators has put the Buckeyes on the national radar any more than they already were. Now in his seventh year in the program, the coach said that high expectations come with playing at OSU.

That might not have been the case when he was hired in 2004.

"The first two years we were able to (fly under the radar) because there was so much negativity surrounding the program, but in year three it set a standard that has stuck with us whether we like it or not," Matta said. "I wish at times it would go away. That's something we talk about in recruiting. We talk about it with our team all the time that when you go into a game you'd better expect to get the other team's best shot."

Now it will be up to the Buckeyes to give the Seahawks their best shot tonight.

"I've been a part of teams that had big wins before and come out the next game and don't play well," Matta said. "As I told them, that's not going to be the case here. We put Florida behind us (Thursday) and started on Wilmington and I think our guys have a pretty good feel and hopefully maturity about them."

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