After a 77-37 tune-up win in an exhibition contest with Walsh last Sunday, the Ohio State basketball team is ready to get things started for real when they take on UMass-Lowell tonight at 7 p.m.
Not much is expected to be gleaned from a game against the River Hawks, a team that was just 10-18 last season and is entering their second season as a Division I program, and a loss would be viewed as catastrophic for the Buckeyes. Still, the team is excited to get going against those in a different jersey, even if those will be worn by what is sure to be an overmatched UMass-Lowell team.
“We’re very excited to get the season going,” sophomore Marc Loving said. “We feel like we’ve been working pretty hard for this moment, just looking forward to getting out and playing against some different guys. Getting out there, executing and seeing how we match up against a different group of guys.”
Loving slid into the starting lineup against Walsh and expects to do the same against the River Hawks alongside point guard Shannon Scott, guard D’Angelo Russell, forward Sam Thompson and center Amir Williams.
UMass-Lowell is a freshman-laden team that is still adjusting to the rigors of Division I play. The River Hawks have eight freshmen on the roster and their tallest player, 6-8 Dontavious Smith, is an expected redshirt. That means that the tallest player suiting up against the Buckeyes will only be 6-6.
The River Hawks are similar to Walsh in that respect and the Buckeyes had no problem dispatching the Cavaliers. Still, coach Thad Matta said that Ohio State had a lot to work on coming out of that exhibition contest.
“I asked the guys this question after the game and I said, ‘You’ve got a sizeable margin win. How do you think we played collectively and can we get better?’ And to a man they all said we can get a lot better,” Matta said. “It was a great film session, but I think every team in college basketball can say we’re not where we want to be just yet, but having the realization in the guys that are on the court is the good thing that I love out of this team.”
UMass-Lowell had just two closed scrimmages and no exhibition games this season, so the Buckeyes can only work on film from last year’s team. Matta said that could lead to some surprises in the opener tonight.
The team is not completely ignorant of the River Hawks, however, and center Amir Williams thinks the team knows what to expect.
“They change defenses a lot, they’re a team that likes to speed you up and you’ve just got to take care of the ball offensively and make extra effort plays on defense,” he said of UMass-Lowell.
The Buckeyes will almost certainly defeat the River Hawks tonight by a comfortable margin, but for Matta there is still plenty to be learned in the first real game of the season.
“We have to look at our execution and the adjustments we want to make,” he said. “We rarely made the same mistake twice, which tells me I like where it is. I told these guys that it is the season now. Practice this week, play, play again. It’s on now.”