Buckeyes Hope To Improve On Glass

Ohio State has charged out to the nation's No. 2 ranking after five victories to open the season but head coach Thad Matta said his team is far from a finished project. As the Buckeyes and freshman Jared Sullinger (pictured) take the court tonight against Florida State, plenty of focus will be put on reading the basketball.

The last time Ohio State made a trip to the Sunshine State, they brought along two different rebounding teams. In the first half of what would become a 93-75 Buckeye victory on Nov. 16, Florida dominated the visitors on the glass to the tune of an 18-8 margin.

The Gators would again hold a lead in boards in the second half – 10-8 – but the Buckeyes were able to turn a three-point halftime deficit into a convincing victory in no small part due to their ability to perform better on the glass.

Head coach Thad Matta must be hoping that it is the second-half team against Florida that shows up for tonight's contest against Florida State (7:30, ESPN) as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The 5-1 Seminoles sit 19th in the nation with an average of 42.3 rebounds per game. The No. 2 Buckeyes, despite starting two players 6-8 or taller, come in at No. 110 nationally with an average of 38.0 per contest.

Given the fact that the Seminoles lead the ACC and are third nationally in field-goal percentage defense, limiting foes to an average shooting percentage of 33.3, rebounding could be a key for OSU in this contest. No team has shot better than 38.6 percent against FSU this season.

"We obviously need to rebound the ball more ferociously," Matta said. "In a game like this both ends offensively and defensively rebounding can be the key because they're such a good defensive team. To go down there and think we're going to shoot 60 percent or something is probably not going to happen, so can we get any back?"

After grabbing 60 rebounds in the first game of the season – a 102-61 victory against North Carolina A&T – the Buckeyes have not topped 48 in their four games since. The team's two big men – freshman Jared Sullinger and senior Dallas Lauderdale – combined for 27 boards in the season opener

Lauderdale in particular has dropped off since then. Although he had a team-high 10 rebounds in an 81-41 win against UNC Wilmington, the senior has accumulated five in the team's three other games.

Sullinger has been more consistent, averaging 8.7 boards in the three games after the opener before being held to three in Friday's win against Miami (Ohio). Looking at the stat sheet after the game, he was not pleased.

"Like Coach Matta says, we're losing our toughness," he said. "We're not going after the basketball as we should. The majority of that, that's my fault. I only had three rebounds. That's just not me. That's one thing I pride myself on is rebounding the basketball."

Looking back on the game, Matta defended the freshman.

"That game was a little bit unusual for Jared from the standpoint that there were stretches where he was pulled away from the basket," the coach said. "Therefore, when the shot goes up he's got to go back in and rebound the ball. I love the fact that he takes it personal. I think he is a tremendous rebounder."

Sullinger leads the team with an average of 8.6 rebounds per game. Last season, the team leader in that category was point guard Evan Turner who averaged 9.2 per contest while being named the national player of the year.

After the win against the RedHawks, Matta said he felt his perimeter players might be simply assuming that either Lauderdale or Sullinger would get all the rebounds. Part of the reason Turner was so successful last season, he said, was because he had free rein on the court while guarding the other team's point guard.

"He was able to scoop in and get a lot of those rebounds, but the most important thing was he was going to the glass," Matta said. "He had a great knack and a great timing for finding the ball."

Although just one of his three rebounds came in the second half of the Miami game, Sullinger was praised by Matta for playing harder in the final 20 minutes. Sullinger said he is still working on his consistency at the collegiate level.

"My father always told me that every game has a different flavor," he said. "That's what I haven't adjusted to yet. I haven't really been playing my best. Coach Matta told me against Miami in the second half I looked a lot better and I looked active. He said it shouldn't take him to motivate me. I took that to heart. In practice I've been trying to motivate myself and get me ready for the game. "

The Seminoles are led by junior forward Chris Singleton, who is averaging a team-high 10.0 rebounds per contest as well as being the leading scorer at 16.2 per game. Last season, OSU held him to eight points on 3 of 10 shooting and his eight rebounds were second-best to the graduated Solomon Alabi.

In his team's 55-51 loss to Florida on Sunday, Singleton went 3 of 13 from the floor for 10 points and finished with six rebounds.

"He had one of those nights," said OSU senior forward David Lighty, who guarded him last season. "When he's on, their team is very effective and can be a high-powered offense. When you're guarding him man-to-man it's about trying to be as disruptive as possible, not giving him easy looks and open looks around the basket. The more jump shots he takes the better it is for us."

Matta said the Buckeyes are expecting a stiff challenge from Singleton both at the basket and on the glass.

"Singleton probably didn't play as well as we had seen (against the Gators), which probably isn't good for us," he said.

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