While fans are still riding high on the Buckeyes 74-67 win over then-No. 4 Kentucky, Ohio State is trying to turn the page on that win while maintaining the momentum gained from it Tuesday night against Mercer.
“It’s definitely a good win, a big win, but we have a good opponent coming in on Tuesday and our focus is directly on them,” center Trevor Thompson said. “We enjoyed the win when the game was over, but now it’s 100 percent Mercer.
“I just feel like not getting complacent, just continuing every single day to work hard in practice. Take every game one by one and day by day and just always listen to the game plan.”
The Bears (9-2) come to Value City Arena tonight for a 9 p.m. tip with Ohio State (6-5) fresh off a win over Arkansas and are dangerous because of their high level of execution, head coach Thad Matta said.
Against Kentucky, Ohio State was able to simplify its defensive game plan because the Wildcats rely on drive-and-kick plays for their offense. That won’t be the case against the Bears offense, while defensively Mercer will throw multiple looks at the Buckeyes.
“They probably execute offensively as well as any team that I’ve seen this year,” Matta said. “Defensively they are going to change it up, they’ll play man, zone. They’ve historically in the past, you run an action and they switch from man to zone, they’re constantly trying to take you out of your rhythm. For us we’ve got to have great patience and understanding of what we’re going against.”
In addition to patience, energy will be key against Mercer. The Buckeyes had struggled to maintain intensity throughout the game up until the contest against Kentucky, and players said that the magnitude of that game made it easier to stay motivated throughout. The stage will not be nearly as big for a home game against a team from the Southern Conference.
Forward Keita Bates-Diop said that now that the team has seen what they are capable of it should be easier to get to that level game in and game out.
“I think it finally showed who we really are,” the sophomore said. “I don’t know what else to say, we’re going to try and play like this the rest of the way throughout the season. I think everything came together in that game for us to finally do what we knew we could do.
“Mercer is a good team. We have to bring the energy. When we watch film for them, they’re a good team. I don’t know what more I can say, they’re a good team and we have to come out and play with energy to beat them.”
The game against Mercer will also likely see the debut of freshman Mickey Mitchell. Not initially cleared by the NCAA eligibility center, the 6-7 forward was declared eligible the day before Ohio State’s contest with Kentucky.
Having him on the bench for the game against the Wildcats gave the team a lift, Matta said, but that was certainly not the environment for Mitchell to get his first college minutes. Mercer may present that opportunity.
“Hopefully we can get him in there and get him some game experience,” Matta said. “The scrimmage at the beginning of the year and the exhibition game, for freshman, those things are huge, and unfortunately he just hasn’t had the opportunity to do that. But hopefully we can.”
That will allow the coach to better rest his other forwards. Bates-Diop (32.6) and Marc Loving (34.6) are both averaging more than 32 minutes per game to lead the team.
“He definitely brings a lot of versatility from being very strong and physical and being able to pass the ball really well and being able to find guys when you think that they’re not open,” Thompson said. “He definitely brings that element of toughness and kind of savvy to his game so it should be interesting to see what he brings to the team.”
If things go according to plan, the Buckeyes should see it tonight against Mercer.