Gift For Struggling OSU: One Cupcake

What do you get the team for Christmas that can't put the ball in the basket? Eastern Illinois. Captain Velimir Radinovic and coach Jim O'Brien discuss OSU's approach since the lopsided loss at Seton Hall and what to expect tonight as the 1-6 Panthers invade Value City Arena.

What can you get for the basketball team that just can't get out of its own way this Christmas?

That's easy: Eastern Illinois.

Ohio State's maddening season of mediocrity will hopefully take a turn toward respectability tonight, even if its opponent is far from it. The Buckeyes (5-4), fresh off a 75-59 pasting at Seton Hall Saturday, host Eastern Illinois (1-6) at 8 p.m. at Value City Arena (ESPN-Plus).

According to team captain Velimir Radinovic, there were no heartfelt team meetings or screaming fits after OSU's fourth embarrassing double-digit loss of the season.

Rather, he said the team spent the last two days simply going to work.

"We have addressed it in practice," Radinovic said. "We didn't need any discussions after the game. You could just see what we did out there. It was pretty embarrassing. We have come back and had a couple of unconventional practices. Coach wants to see who is going to compete and base the minutes on who is competing. Whoever works hard in practice is going to be playing."

The first unit saw Seton Hall lead by 22 points at halftime and 29 points with eight minutes left before head coach Jim O'Brien pulled the plug and inserted his reserves. They outscored SHU's backups 17-3 to close the game and make the final margin somewhat respectable.

"That was an eye opener to see the second group out there," Radinovic said. "They made the game respectable. That shows us how we should be. We need to play the whole 40 minutes like that. That needs to be there tomorrow."

Radinovic said he has tried to exhort his teammates during these trying times.

"I have tried to get on the guys," he said. "It is not in my nature to call anybody out. I try to lead by example by diving on the floor and doing the little intangible things."

But, as a group, those "little intangible things" have been in short supply for this OSU team, which, barring a major turnaround sometime soon, can forget about getting back into the NCAA Tournament after a one-year absence.

And O'Brien told reporters there are no easy answers, hinting that radical changes could be in the offing.

"I'm not sure what I'm going to do right now," he said. "But the thing I am aware of is, perhaps, we can not take a short-term approach to this. As disappointing as that might sound to a lot of people, I'm not so sure looking at the short term with this group is the way to do this. With the exception of Velimir and Shun (Jenkins), all of these guys are back. Some lessons need to be learned. Maybe the long-term approach may be in our best interest. That may not sit well with people who are in tune with where we are tomorrow or next week, but we may have to look at it.

"We have to play harder. That's what we're working on right now."

O'Brien was asked about his team's effort.

"It's not where it needs to be," he said. "That's all I continue to talk about. We're not a real tough team right now. In order to guard, you need to put in some tremendous effort. We're a little too soft right now."

He was asked if he has challenged the team.

"We have tried a lot of different things and we're going through the checklist," O‘Brien said. "We just need to keep working at it and hopefully one of these things will sink in at some point."

The coach did credit the reserves who ended the game, noting that some of them may see more time -- beginning tonight.

"I was really happy with the kids who finished the game," he said. "There was a timeout with 3:45 or something and we challenged that group. We said to them, `We're not going to win this game. But you guys can win the next 3:45. That's your challenge.' I think we won 14-3. I was happy with the way they responded. We need to start to take a look at some of those guys, who may not be as talented but they give you all the effort they have."

One bugaboo that has been consistent for OSU is defending the three-point shot. Seton Hall buried nine threes in the win Saturday after Furman hit 12 in a two-point loss at OSU last Wednesday.

"Maybe more than half that they made were guarded," O‘Brien said. "We got a hand up. We have to contest them better. Give Seton Hall some credit, they made some shots. But we need to do a better job of closing out guys and getting out on them quicker and tougher."

And, as for a scouting report on Eastern Illinois, O'Brien said, "They're struggling. They haven't won very many games. They play a lot of guys and they shoot a lot of threes and they play quick."

Also Notable

* Ohio State faces Eastern Illinois in the final game before the Christmas holiday. The Panthers are 1-6 after a road loss at Western Illinois last Saturday (84-79). EIU losses have come against Northern Illinois (83-76), Wisconsin (81-47), Illinois Chicago (77-60), Indiana State (71-56) and Evansville (86-76). EIU downed St. Francis at home 80-57 for its lone victory.

* Eastern Illinois sophomore guard Josh Gomez leads the Panthers with 10.0 points a game. Junior guard Derik Hollyfield is next at 9.1 ppg. Junior Jason Wright contributes 8.7 ppg. for EIU. Andy Gobczynski is the team's top rebounder with 4.4 rpg.

* Rick Samuels has been at Eastern Illinois for the last 24 years. He trails only Jim Boeheim of Syracuse on the list of current active NCAA Division I coaches who have remained at a single institution the longest. Boeheim has been with the Orange for 28 consecutive seasons. Samuels is next at 24, which is tied with Gene Keady at Purdue. The dean of coaches in the Ohio Valley Conference, Samuels has 343 victories to his credit, which ranks 34th among active coaches at the Division I level. He is the all-time victories leader at Eastern Illinois and has taken two teams to the NCAA Tournament during his career, which started as an assistant at Eastern Washington and then Iowa State.

* Ohio State and EIU have met just once previously, a 72-59 win for the Buckeyes Dec. 22, 2001 at Value City Arena.

* Junior Tony Stockman leads Ohio State with an average of 15.6 points a game. He has connected on 87 percent of his foul shots (20-23). With a total of 17 steals, Stockman is among Big Ten players with an average of 1.89 thefts a game. Sophomore J.J. Sullinger averages 12.7 points a game, second on the team, and is the squad leader from 3-point range with a .385 shooting percentage (10-26). He also is connecting on 54 percent of his field goal attempts (44-81).

* Freshman Nick Dials scored a career high seven points on 2-of-3 field goal attempts against Seton Hall. He also made his first career three-pointer.

* Junior Ugo Nwankwo saw the most significant playing time of his two-year career. He scored his first bucket at the buzzer and played a total of nine minutes.

* Senior Shaun Smith tied a career high with three assists and set another with two steals.

* Junior Matt Marinchick added five points and got to the foul line six times, a career best. He also recorded his first career block.

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