Ohio State has played one game outside Columbus this season – an 81-76 overtime loss to Memphis on Nov. 27 – but when the Buckeyes play Connecticut tomorrow at noon it will be the first time the young team faces a true road environment.
The loss to the Tigers came on a neutral court in Miami, but the Buckeyes (4-4) will face the Huskies (5-3) in Storrs.
“I’m anxious to see, to be honest with you,” Matta said of seeing his team on the road. “I think that you play a game like this, against Connecticut, and you’re going to learn a lot about your basketball team. Being on the road, on their home court, we’re going to have to do it nine times in January, February and March so this is something that could be a good teaching tool for us both positively and negatively. With all the new guys, it is a little bit of an adventure.”
Six of Matta’s players will be playing their first road game in an Ohio State uniform and three will be making their first road start.
Environment aside, Ohio State will have its work cut out for it against Connecticut. The Huskies three losses this season have all come to basketball powers in Syracuse, Gonzaga and Maryland, though UConn did drop all those games at home.
Connecticut is the 38th ranked team in adjusted offensive efficiency by Ken Pomeroy’s rankings.
“I think that they are very powerful in transition,” Matta said of the Huskies. “We have seen where, off of a made basket, they have shot an uncontested layup at the other end. They have got a lot of guys that can go off the bounce.”
One of those players skilled off the bounce is transfer Sterling Gibbs. The former Seton Hall point guard considered transferring to Ohio State, but settled on the Huskies and helps lead a balanced attack, scoring 11.9 points and dishing out 2.6 assists per game.
Joining Gibbs in double figures are Daniel Hamilton (13.9), Rodney Purvis (13.8) and Shonn Miller (12.1).
Connecticut boasts good size in 7-footer Amida Brimah while a pair of 6-10 players come off the bench in Steven Enoch and Phillip Nolan.
It’s unclear if Ohio State will have its full complement of centers available for the contest. Freshman Daniel Giddens had assumed the starting role and become a defensive force for the Buckeyes, but a strained hamstring ahs cost him the past two games. Matta was hopeful Thursday that Giddens would be able to go against the Huskies.
In a potentially hostile environment Matta said he will be leaning on players like junior Marc Loving and sophomore Jae’Sean Tate.
“That's where you lean on your veterans,” the coach said. “Unfortunately coming into this season we've only got two guys who have ever started a game in an Ohio State uniform. With that said, it’s time, you've got to band together. You've got to play a team basketball game and you can’t get rattled.
“But that happens at times. You learn quickly. A 6-0 run, timeout, what’s the mood of your players? Are they calm? Do they know why they went on a 6-0 run? That's when you kind of know you've got the making of a really good team.”