O'Brien Leaving Stockman Behind For Iowa Trip

OSU men's basketball coach Jim O'Brien announced this afternoon that leading scorer Tony Stockman would not join the team for the road trip to Iowa, where the Buckeyes meet the Hawkeyes Saturday (8 p.m., ESPN-Plus). Click this free link for more details on this decision and a preview of the game.

Ohio State's difficult men's basketball season took another turn Friday with coach Jim O'Brien's announcement that junior guard Tony Stockman would not make the trip with the team for Saturday's game at Iowa (8 p.m., ESPN-Plus).

Stockman, the team's leading scorer at 12.8 points per game, was coming off one of the worst offensive showings in his college career in Tuesday's 69-61 loss at Indiana. He was 3 of 12 from the floor, including 1 of 9 on three-pointers. He finished with seven points in 38 minutes of work.

O'Brien said he made the decision after Thursday's practice. He did not go into specifics and it remains unclear if there was a single incident that precipitated this move, but it was clear that the coach did not approve of something Stockman did or did not do in that practice session.

Following Friday's practice, O'Brien called reporters together to make the announcement.

"Tony Stockman is not going to be making the trip with us," O‘Brien said. "The simple reason is that at this stage, I'm not 100 percent convinced he wants to be here and be a part of our group. So I am just going to give him a couple of days off to evaluate where he is and what he wants to do with his career and how he wants to approach the future.

"He is welcome to come to practice on Monday, but I think he really needs have a couple of days away from this to figure out what he wants to do. This is a lot more than just basketball."

O'Brien said the decision had nothing to do with Stockman's performance against IU.

"This has nothing to do with Tuesday's game," he said. "It started in Thursday's practice. It's how he approached practice that I was most disappointed about."

The coach said he agonized about the decision before finalizing it today before practice, where Stockman was not present.

"I didn't get any sleep last night," O‘Brien said. "I tossed and turned and I've been thinking about this for 24 hours. This is not pleasant, but I just really believe in my heart this has to be done today."

O'Brien said he will discuss the matter with Stockman again on Monday and decide where it goes from there.

"He's going to come back on Monday and maybe he doesn't want to be here," O‘Brien said. "He's got a couple of days to figure it out. He told me he would be at practice on Monday. He's got to come back and he's got to get after it and I have to feel that this is where he truly wants to be. We'll make a decision on where we are on Monday."

Team captain and center Velimir Radinovic said he did not know specifically what happened. But he said the team would have to pull together in Stockman's absence.

"At this point, we have to stick together," Radinovic said. "We are down one of our better players. We need to pick it up. We have no excuses. We have to go out there and try and win.

"I'm not really sure what's going on with that. It was up to Coach to keep him out of the game. It was his decision. We just have to stay together, play as a team and try and get some things done tomorrow."

Pressing Ahead

The Buckeyes (9-8, 1-3) are reaching crunch time in their 2003-04 season. After losing four of their last five games, they head to Iowa (9-6, 2-2) desperately in search of a win.

"I think all of these games now are all the same for us," O‘Brien said. "I don't think any one game is any more important than any other. Every single one of them is important. The most important game is always going to be the next one we play.

"I thought we played well against Indiana except for the last few minutes when we couldn't make some things happen. But the only way you are going to get some collective amount of confidence as a team is by winning some games. When you lose games like that at the end, as much as you can preach about confidence, you have to go ahead and do something good."

With Stockman out, O'Brien indicated that Brandon Fuss-Cheatham would move back into the starting lineup at point guard, alongside Nick Dials. Seldom-used sophomore Ricardo Billings also figures to get increased minutes with Stockman out.

"There is naturally going to be a lot of inexperience in the backcourt," O‘Brien said. "I am hoping that the guys will come together and somebody is going to have to pick up some of the slack. Obviously, the last few games Tony has been getting 38 minutes a game. There's going to be a lot more minutes for somebody else. Somebody else will be getting an opportunity. Fuss is going to start and then we will go from there."

OSU shot 39.6 percent from the floor (21 of 53) against Indiana, including 2 of 16 from behind the three-point arc. In its nine wins, OSU has shot 39 percent from three-point range. But that figures has dipped to a dismal 25 percent in its eight defeats.

"We have not been shooting the ball well," O‘Brien said. "In the last five games we've played, we've lost four of them. And it is no small coincidence in those four games, we did not shoot the ball well. The one game we did shoot well, we won. If we continue to get the same shots we have been getting, I have to believe we will start to make our share. We're close, but we're not shooting the ball well.

"We missed 14 threes the other day, but 10 of them were open. I would love to have those 10 again. Plus, we missed 12 opportunities in the paint."

Iowa ends a three-game road stretch by hosting the Buckeyes. The Hawkeyes fell to Iowa State in Ames Wednesday 84-76 after a win at Minnesota Jan. 13 (83-68) and a loss at Illinois Jan. 17 (88-82).

Sophomore guard Pierre Pierce leads the Hawkeyes with 16.6 points per game with three others also in double figures. Guard Jeff Horner averages 11.3 points with Jared Reiner (10.5) and Brody Boyd (10.2) also in double digits. Reiner is out of action with injury. He was the team's leading rebounder with 7.2 rebounds a game. Forward Greg Brunner is the next leading rebounder with 7.1 per game.

"They just lost to Iowa State," O‘Brien said. "They took 29 threes. Brunner and Boyd are shooting great from the perimeter. Pierce is a very good scorer, he's a slasher. Obviously, they are going to miss Reiner and his size, but they still have Sonderleiter. They also have Glenn Worley at the four. He's a tough match-up because he can shoot the three. We have to watch what we're doing defensively. If they're going to shoot threes like that, we may have to adjust what we're doing."

Radinovic added, "They play a lot of motion offense. They like to get the ball into the post quick. We will need to get back in transition. They have been shooting the ball well, too."

OSU won two out of three games with Iowa last year, including a 66-64 thriller over the Hawkeyes in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament in Chicago.

"Interestingly, they beat us here and we won there," O‘Brien said. "We've won there a couple of times since I've been here at Ohio State. I think we can go down and win this game. Obviously, we're going to have to play well. But the games seem to be very close when we play them."

Radinovic averaged 13 points in those three games against Iowa.

"I enjoy playing against them," he said. "I played with Reiner on the Big Ten team overseas. I enjoyed playing with him and practicing against him. It's too bad he won't be there. We have to take advantage of it.

"We're going to try and pound it inside, but we know they will make a lot of adjustments and probably play a lot of zone and double the post. Terence (Dials) and myself will have to take care of the ball, kick it outside and hopefully those guys will make some shots."

Dials had 19 points and Radinovic tallied 14 in the loss to Indiana.

O'Brien added, "We have to do that. It would be foolish not to put it inside. With the way Terence has been playing and the way Velimir has played all year, we have to explore those opportunities inside."

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