Eyeing The Eagles
In Marquette, Ohio State is facing a team that it was scheduled to face a year ago, but never played due to the dew-induced cancellation of the Carrier Classic. Having made it through their first two games this season unscathed, the Eagles have been led by forward Davante Gardner, who at 6-8 and 290 pounds is averaging 17.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game in his senior season.
"Obviously, a really talented basketball team," Matta said of Marquette. "There's a lot of pieces of their puzzles. First two games they really showed they want to pound the ball inside to their post guys. They are a very physical team, both offensively and defensively. They've got some veterans that have logged (time) on some great basketball teams that Marquette has had."
With a top-20 ranking to their credit, the Eagles enter Saturday's matchup as the No. 17 team in the country. As a national audience watches from home, the Buckeyes will be faced with an opportunity to pick up an early quality road win for their postseason resume.
"We view this, honestly, as two top-20 teams going head-to-head in an early matchup," Matta said. "It should be an exciting basketball game."
Hit The Road, Jack
Playing away from the friendly confines of the Schottenstein Center for the first time all season, Ohio State will be tasked with the challenge of facing a hostile crowd inside of the BMO Harris Bradley Center on Saturday. But this isn't the first road rodeo for the Buckeyes, who play seven upperclassmen in their rotation.
"I think it will be a great environment in there on Saturday," said Matta, now in his 10th season at OSU. "You're going into what I consider, in November, a Big Ten-type of arena in terms of the atmosphere, the team that you're playing and you hope that we'll be able to carry forth all the big games we've been in before."
Should his team fall behind, Matta's not worried about his Ohio State's ability against adversity. Against the Bobcats on Tuesday, the Buckeyes saw their lead vanish to five points with fewer than five minutes remaining in the game, but OSU was still able to pull out what was ultimately a double-digit victory against its in-state foe.
"I like where we're at. I thought Tuesday night we played segments of terrific basketball for early in the season. I thought we had a very good way about us, both mentally and physically," Matta said. "It's not going to go perfect. We cant write a script for how the game is going to go, but our ability to see what happened and correct it and move forward is part of mental preparation."
One of the biggest reasons that the Buckeyes were able to keep Ohio at bay was a late 3-point shot by senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. It went down as Smith's only make from the field for the game, but according to Matta, he proved capable of providing production outside of scoring.
"I think he pressed a little bit," Matta admitted of Smith's shooting struggles. "But he was the highest plus-minus guy we had in that game, so he is doing the other things, and I think that's something that hopefully speaks volumes in terms of him being a senior and knowing it may not go down the way he wants to it. But he has to keep playing and fighting through it."
Another player who Matta and his staff are looking to get more consistency from is junior forward LaQuinton Ross.
A member of the Wooden Award preseason watch list, Ross was expected to have a big year for the Buckeyes after a breakout performance in last season's NCAA Tournament. Through two contests, however, the 6-8 swingman is only averaging 12 points per game.
In an effort to get Ross on track, Matta called upon some words of wisdom from a former United States president.
"I think it was Abraham Lincoln: ‘What you do speaks much louder than what you say.' And do it. And do it consistently," Matta said. "From that perspective, I think he has been cast into a light and now you have to do it. I think that's the big thing with LaQuinton. We are trying to get him to understand that every single possession is vitally important in playing with your teeth clenched a little bit is something he's got to continue to build upon and continue to do."