Buckeyes Set To Return After Layoff

After earning a hard-fought road win Nov. 30 against Florida State, the No. 2 Ohio State men's basketball team returned home to face a nine-day layoff until its next game. With the Buckeyes set to hit the court tomorrow night, have they gotten what they wanted out of the time away from action?

Ohio State's non-conference schedule this season is a case of frantic or famine. Tomorrow night, the No. 2 Buckeyes will play their first game in nine days with a 7 p.m. home tip against IUPUI.

The game will be the first in a stretch that will see OSU play seven home contests in 18 days culminating with a Dec. 27 home tipoff against Tennessee-Martin. But before the Buckeyes could take to the court, they first had the layoff to cope with.

Prior to his team's last game – a Nov. 30 road win against Florida State – head coach Thad Matta said he would use the time off to better digest how the Buckeyes had played in their first six games of the season. Now looking back on that time period, Matta said he was not surprised by what he saw from his team.

"You watch a game, you watch the tape, you watch the tape again so you've got a pretty good pattern in your mind of what you're doing," he said. "The one thing I've told these guys is when we ask them to do something, they really try to do it. That's a great trait to have."

Statistically, a number of things have gone right for the Buckeyes thus far. They rank second in the nation in scoring defense (51.8 points per game), 13th in rebounding margin (9.7) and 26th in field-goal percentage (.489) through games played Dec. 5.

The primary area where Matta said he wanted to see OSU improvement was in execution on both sides of the ball.

"Honestly, I think we just need more repetition at a lot of different things," he said. "In the six games we've played we've seen a lot of different offensive schemes and I think that's been good for us."

He cited working on screens – setting them as well as fighting through them – and weakside defense as points of emphasis during practice.

"We really stressed on our offense, execution and pace," freshman point guard Aaron Craft said. "The last couple games we struggled a bit with things and that was a big point of emphasis, our offensive execution. But at the same time we didn't want to start taking defense as a second option. We knew that our defense has to stay at the level it was at before the break. We had a good balance but one key thing was our offensive execution."

As Craft pointed out, it has not all been roses for the Buckeyes to this point. Although they have ascended to the No. 2 in the national rankings, they have struggled at times. In the win against the Seminoles, OSU shot just 32.2 percent while a 64-45 win Nov. 23 against Morehead State was in doubt until the second half thanks to a sluggish performance.

In road wins against FSU and Florida, Matta used a short bench and played only seven players until the final outcome was well in hand. The time off has allowed some of the freshmen not seeing extensive action to make a case for more playing time.

"That obviously is the plan, is the goal, but I've always said this: I don't give guys playing time. They get it themselves," Matta said.

The Buckeyes did not practice straight through the layoff, however. The team was off Dec. 1 and the players were afforded 52 consecutive hours away from the court during the ensuing weekend as the prepared for finals week.

Matta said he did not see the stress of exams affect his team – particularly his freshmen –thanks to OSU's quarter system.

"They've been very good in practice," he said. "We've kept it relatively short and made sure they had time to do what they had to do. Finals is a lot like midterm week around here and they have a couple of those with the quarter system so they're, I think, used to it in that regard."

When they did practice, Matta said the focus was on competition rather than game preparation. Craft said they used the time to reaffirm some on-court rules.

"I think we came together as a team and got everyone back on the same page with what we want and who we want to have the ball in certain situations," the freshman said. "It was a good three days of practice before coach gave us the break over the weekend. It got us all focused back on offense."

Said Matta: "The mindset that we took into this eight days off, the challenge was for us to get better because we go (a lot) so it's really on us. That's why we really spent a lot of times on ourselves in this period. As you start playing games at the pace we're going to play them, you don't get a ton of time to really work on those things."

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