Buckeyes Set For Tournament Opener

Ohio State opens Big Ten tournament play at noon Thursday against Indiana (ESPN). It will be interesting to see if freshman Ivan Harris, who helped spark a late comeback against Illinois on Sunday, can again play a featured role in this game. For more on this game and Harris, click this free link.

OSU men's basketball coach Jim O'Brien is only slightly wary of having to play Indiana in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament in downtown Indianapolis.

"There will probably be more people there for them," O‘Brien noted. "It was similar to when St. John's would host the Big East tournament in Madison Square Garden and they would play their home games there. But they don't play their home games in this building. There may be a little bit of an edge because of the fans, but I don't think it's that big of a deal."

The ninth-seeded Buckeyes (14-15) and eighth-seeded Hoosiers (13-14) will square off at noon Eastern time Thursday (ESPN) at Indianapolis' Conseco Fieldhouse.

The stakes for each team are the same. They each must win at least twice in Indianapolis to qualify for the NIT. It would take a run of four wins in four days to win the tournament and snag the Big Ten's automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.

But O'Brien believes his team's psyche is fine, even after a heartbreaking 64-63 loss to Big Ten champion Illinois in Sunday's regular season finale.

"We had a very good practice, a very spirited practice," O‘Brien said Wednesday. "They seemed to be into it. They were very alert today. I think we're pretty upbeat right now. I think our guys want to keep playing. We know if we don't win two games, our season is over. And we can't get to the second one unless we win tomorrow."

O'Brien is hoping his team will build off its modest late-season success after winning three of its last five games.

"I'm still waiting for our best game," O‘Brien said. "I don't think we've played our best game. I hope we get a chance to play our best game before the season ends. By best game I mean a game where our big guys and our guards, everybody, plays well in the same game. I still think we have our best game in us."

The teams split their two meetings during the regular season. Indiana won 69-61 in Columbus on Jan. 20, but OSU returned the favor with a 59-56 victory Feb. 21 at Bloomington.

Bracey Wright had 28 points and Marshall Strickland tallied 19 as the Hoosiers won in Columbus. But OSU's Dials had 19 points and Velimir Radinovic added 16 in that defeat.

"The first game was close, the second game was close," O‘Brien said. "It's going to come down to our bigs and their smalls, as it has the last few times we've played them. In the last game we played them, Terence and Velimir had a great night offensively and Bracey Wright didn't have a good shooting night.

"The other game we played here, we felt like we could have won. We didn't play well down the stretch. They were two close games with two teams that have struggled a little bit this year.

"I don't think they're going to be able to let our guys get as close as they got the last time without some kind of double teams or something. They may even play a little zone, who knows. They played a little zone against us last time. (IU coach) Mike (Davis) is a good coach. He's not sleeping down there, so you have to think that something will be a little bit different."

OSU center and captain Velimir Radinovic is hoping to prolong his college career for at least a few more games.

"We're definitely playing better," Radinovic said. "Some of the young guys are stepping up that have been inconsistent. We're getting solid guard play. Terence and myself have been playing well and Ivan played well the last game. Hopefully, we'll continue to play well."

O'Brien was asked if OSU's run to the Big Ten tournament championship game the last two years would help his team.

"I think, yes, it would if it's the same team," O‘Brien said. "This is far from the same team. There are a lot of guys on our team now who were not a part of either of the last two tournaments, even the most recent one. We have a totally different team than we had a year ago."

The coach was asked if he has fond memories of the 3-0 tournament sweep the Buckeyes pulled in Indianapolis two years ago.

"It really only has been two years ago that we won this thing," he said. "You would think at times it was 20 years ago. But it really only has been two years ago that we won this tournament."

Radinovic is hoping the Buckeyes can hang around Indy for just a little while.

"We've made the finals the last two years," he said. "We expect to repeat and get back there. We want to try and repeat the same success we've had in the tournament. We want to try and win every game we can."

Harris Steps Up

OSU freshman power forward Ivan Harris entered Saturday's game with Illinois with 16 minutes left and the Buckeyes staring at a 17-point deficit. The 6-8 Harris, who had averaged just 10 minutes a game, never left the floor from that point on as he helped OSU mount a huge comeback bid.

He nailed a three-pointer off a feed from Ricardo Billings, then hit another off an inside-out pass from Radinovic. Then, for good measure, he canned a 16-foot jumper as the Buckeyes inched closer. Later, he stepped in front of an entry pass and tipped it to Terence Dials for a steal. OSU came up a point short, but it was an experience that Harris will not soon forget.

"Crunch time, yeah, it was crazy," Harris said. "I came in and hit some key buckets. That hyped me up and also hyped the team up. Then, Terence Dials blew up. We started getting him the ball and he was scoring each possession we came down.

"When I get in the game, I try to execute. I just try to do what the coach asks me to do."

Harris discussed some of the reasons on why he maybe has not played as much as he would have liked as a freshman.

"It's a physical game and I'm a little lacking in that in terms of being a big man in the Big Ten," he said. "I have some advantages over some big men. I can step up and shoot the jumper. I just have to work hard and get around my guy on the post in the man-to-man."

When asked what he plans to work on this off-season, Harris replied, "Getting stronger and working on my ballhandling. I need to be more physical and put on some weight. I weigh 215 now. I'd like to come back at 225."

Also Notable

* O'Brien was glad to have Nick Dials back at full strength. He, too, was on the floor down the stretch for the Buckeyes against Illinois.

"He can play (again)," O‘Brien said. "He made a big three the other day. He had five assists and no turnovers. He's a very bright player. He's somebody who gives us a player who is a threat on the perimeter."

* ESPN will televise the game nationally with Dave Barnett, Tim McCormick and Steve Lavin calling the action. If OSU wins, ESPN would televise the Buckeyes' Friday quarterfinal match-up with Illinois at noon.

* The Buckeyes are 7-5 overall at the tournament. The No. 9 seed at the event is 5-6 overall. Indiana is 6-6 overall at the tournament, reaching the 2001 finals before being upset by Iowa. The No. 8 seed is 7-6 all-time.

* Indiana leads the all-time series 96-69. Ohio State is 47-34 in Columbus. The Hoosiers are 58-22 in Bloomington. The teams have met four times on neutral courts with the Hoosiers winning each match-up. The last neutral meeting was a 78-71 Indiana win in the inaugural Big Ten tournament in 1998. Ohio State has played the Hoosiers three times in a season on three previous occasions, the last in 1997-98.

* Junior Tony Stockman leads Ohio State with an average of 13.8 points a game. With a total of 61 steals, Stockman is among Big Ten leaders (2nd) with an average of 2.18 thefts a game. Radinovic is the team's second leading scorer with an average of 10.2 ppg. Stockman leads Ohio State vs. Big Ten competition with 13.5 ppg. Terence Dials is second at 11.6 ppg.

* Sophomore guard Bracey Wright leads Indiana with 18.7 points a game, good enough for the No. 3 spot in scoring among conference players. He leads the team in field goals made (152), 3-pointers made (67), foul shots made (133) and is second in rebounds (5.6 rpg.). Marshall Stickland is the second leading scorer with 11.5 ppg. Senior A.J. Moye is the squad's top rebounded with 6.3 rpg.

* Davis nears the end of his fourth year at Indiana with an overall record of 80-52. He led IU to the 2002 NCAA championship game against Maryland.

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