Buckeyes Slide By NKU In Matta's Home Debut

Junior Terence Dials had 22 points and junior Je'Kel Foster, a junior college transfer making his OSU debut, had 19 as the Buckeyes defeated Northern Kentucky 77-67 in a season-opening exhibition Tuesday night.

Thad Matta made his public debut as Ohio State's head basketball coach Tuesday night as the Buckeyes hosted Division II Northern Kentucky for an exhibition at Value City Arena.

The story of this game was how OSU was unable to pull away from a determined NKU team until late, settling for a 77-67 win. The circumstances did not allow Matta to play as many of his bench players as many minutes as he might have liked.

OSU never led by more than 11 points at any point in the game. The teams combined for 53 fouls (32 by NKU) and 63 free throws (43 attempts by OSU).

"We allowed them to hang around," Matta said. "I think tonight we did some good things that we wanted to accomplish. But that consistency that we're looking for ... We want consistency over greatness. To play a team like Northern Kentucky that can shoot the ball the way they do, it's always a little bit frightening."

Terence Dials led the Buckeyes with 22 points and seven rebounds. He hit on 10 of 11 free throw attempts before fouling out in the closing minutes.

"Ohio State didn't play the type of basketball we have been playing in recent weeks," Dials said. "It didn't transfer over. We still need to work on a lot of things."

Je'Kel Foster, a junior college transfer making his OSU debut, added 19 points and four steals.

"I felt great," Foster said. "I just tried to get my team into it and play team ball and just play my game."

"The thing I love about Je'Kel is he is going to come in and compete," Matta said. "The thing he brings is he's a winner. He won 32 games at junior college last year. He has a pretty good feel for what it takes to win and compete."

J.J. Sullinger added 13 points and 10 rebounds. He was 11 of 20 at the foul line.

"I liked the way he pursued rebounds," Matta said of Sullinger. "He was getting to the foul line. He's got to step up and make a higher percentage of those."

Tony Stockman, OSU's leading scorer a year ago at 13.1 points per game, had nine points. Ivan Harris added six points and four rebounds on 3-of-9 shooting from the floor. Jamar Butler, a freshman guard making his OSU debut, added six points. Freshman post Matt Terwilliger had an emphatic two-handed dunk for his first basket in an OSU uniform and the team's only other points. Ricardo Billings, Jermyl Jackson-Wilson, Matt Sylvester and Matt Marinchick all played but failed to score.

OSU ended up 32 of 43 (74.4 percent) from the foul line. But OSU was just 3 of 11 from three-point range (27.3 percent) for the game and a dismal 5 of 19 (26.3 percent) from the floor in the second half.

Mike Kelsey and Derek Smith led NKU with 16 points each.

Foster had 12 of his points and three steals in the first half to help the Buckeyes build a 38-28 halftime lead. Foster made back-to-back steals for layups as OSU moved ahead 10-8 with 15:43 left in the first half.

"That helped me get into a rhythm," Foster said.

Later in the half, Stockman made a three off a feed from Butler and also stuck an 18-foot jumper during an 8-2 run that pushed the lead to 20-12 with 10:40 left in the half.

Foster then hit a three-pointer and made a 14-foot jumper as OSU moved up 24-17 with 7:27 left in the half. Harris hit a baseline jumper to put OSU up 33-24 with 3:43 left in the half. In the final minute, Harris drilled a 14-foot jumper and Sullinger connected on 1 of 2 free throws for the 38-28 lead.

The Buckeyes twice built their lead to 11 points early in the second half. Sullinger made it 42-31 with a driving bank shot and Butler canned a three-pointer off a feed from Sullinger on the break to put OSU ahead 48-37 with 12:06 left.

But Northern Kentucky would not go away. Kevin Schappell hit a three-pointer and Pat Cary followed with a driving layup to cut OSU's lead to 52-45 with 9:34 left in the game.

Dials then scored eight straight points for OSU on six free throws and a rebound of his own miss as the Buckeyes moved back ahead 60-50 with 7:26 left. But NKU cut the lead to 60-54 after Kelsey scored and Cary made a pair of free throws with 6:12 left.

OSU regained some breathing room when Stockman made a pair of free throws to put the Buckeyes up 65-55 with 4:34 left. But NKU's Kelsey came off a screen and hit a three to cut it to 65-58 with 3:49 left. Another Kelsey three with 2:02 left trimmed the gap to 69-63.

Kelsey then scored off a backdoor pass to make things even more uneasy, cutting the gap to 70-65 with 1:39 left. But Sullinger made a pair of free throws with 1:24 left and, after rebounding an NKU miss, made 1 of 2 free throws to put OSU up 73-65 with 57.4 seconds left.

Foster and Butler each made a pair of free throws in the final 38 seconds to ice the game.

Also Notable

* The Buckeyes wore a patch in honor of Chris Fuss-Cheatham, the mother of senior guard Brandon Fuss-Cheatham who was killed in a car accident last week in Pennsylvania. A moment of silence was also recognized prior to the game.

Brandon Fuss-Cheatham was expected to rejoin the team Wednesday after attending to his father, who was injured in the accident.

"He said his dad was up and walking," Matta said. "I know they are very excited about that."

Matta said the CFC patch will remain on the team's uniforms all season.

* Foster started in place of Fuss-Cheatham at guard. The rest of the starters were Stockman and Sullinger in the backcourt with Dials and Harris at the forward positions.

* The crowd was announced at 11,458, although there only appeared to be about 8,000 in the house.

* The Buckeyes will open the regular season Monday against Towson in the opening round of the Guardians Classic. They will then play either Robert Morris or Morgan State on Tuesday.

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