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(BuckeyeSports members get 10% off their entire package)Ohio State ascended to the No. 12 spot in the Associated Press poll this week and boasts a 6-1 record, the lone loss a road defeat to a top five team in Louisville.
The Buckeyes rebounded from that loss with a 20-point victory over Colgate Saturday and will look to get their second winning streak of the season going tonight when the host High Point at 7 p.m. Still, the team remains a work in progress.
“Let’s face it we’re trying to beat High Point, but we are ultimately trying to be a better basketball team every time we take the floor,” head coach Thad Matta said. “It is still relatively early in the season so in our perspective, the more we can get guys into the flow I think the better we’ll be in the end.”
In the past two games, the Buckeyes’ seniors have been the ones struggling to get in the flow. After opening the season on a tear, including a school-record 16 assists against Sacred Heart, Shannon Scott has struggled recently. The senior point guard hit just three of his 14 attempts against Louisville and Colgate, totaling seven points, five assists, six rebounds and five turnovers in 45 total minutes in the two games. He didn’t play down the stretch in either game, averaging seven minutes in the second half of the two contests.
Scott entered the Louisville game leading the country in assists per game. Matta said he hopes his senior point guard isn’t pressing because of the expectations he built for himself.
“That’s one thing that I hope is not an issue with him,” Matta said, “That he feels pressure to be worried about what outside influences think of him when we just want him to play what he’s capable of playing.”
Scott isn’t the only senior who has struggled recently. Forward Sam Thompson has scored just nine total points in the past two games after averaging 12 per contest in the season’s first five games. Thompson played every minute against the Cardinals, but logged just six minutes in the second half against Colgate.
Matta said that he was riding the hot hand late in both of the past two games and that the seniors have remained positive.
“They are two of the best kids I’ve ever had in our program here and they were happy that we won the game,” the coach said of the Colgate contest. “With that said, they’ve been around long enough that they know they have to do things well.”
In place of the two seniors, Matta has relied on a freshman-heavy lineup late in games. Freshmen D’Angelo Russell, Kam Williams and Jae’Sean Tate have been on the floor in key moments late in each of the past two games.
“In practice we keep showing coach that we can play end minutes,” Tate said. “For the end of the game I just think that was our night. It wasn’t about who was younger, who was older, freshmen, senior. It was just five guys on the floor who wanted to play and wanted to finish the game.”
Against the Panthers (6-2) Matta will be looking for his freshmen to continue their reliable play and for his seniors to return to early-season form. Though the Buckeyes will be focusing on internal improvements against High Point, Matta said that the Big South opponent should not be taken lightly.
“I view this team as a team you could see in March in the NCAA Tournament, winning their conference,” the coach said. “I think our guys know that, they respect the fact that, hey we got to battle.”
Task No. 1 against the Panthers will be shutting down power forward John Brown, who enters the contest with the Buckeyes averaging 19.5 points per game.
The Buckeyes defense has been up to the challenge the past two games, as Ohio State allowed an average of 57 points against Louisville and Colgate. The Buckeyes will look to improve their offensive efforts and rebounding tonight against the Panthers.
In all likelihood the Buckeyes will leave Value City Arena with a win tonight. More importantly, Ohio State hopes to leave a better basketball team than the last time they took the floor