Buckeyes To Host UTC At St. John Arena

Thad Matta will take his OSU men's basketball team down the street Saturday for a game against Chattanooga (8 p.m., ESPN-Plus). We have comments from Matta as well as several of his players on the chance to take a walk down memory lane with OSU's first game at SJA since February 1998.

The Ohio State basketball team faces off against Chattanooga Saturday at 8 p.m. in the first men's game to be played at St. John Arena since Feb. 28, 1998 – an overtime loss to Penn State (89-85).

Ohio State is 426-151 games played from 1956-1998 at St. John for a winning percentage of .738.

Ohio State head coach Thad Matta has never seen a basketball game in person at the historic building.

"Only on TV," Matta said. "Actually looking forward to it. The first time I walked in there when I got to Ohio State, it was like, ‘Wow! This is an amazing venue.' I don't know if there's 50 on-campus facilities in the country right now better than that place."

Matta likes the intimate setting that St. John provides.

"Just the tightness of it," he said. "I know I spoke in there (at Skull Session) before the Cincinnati football game and that was one of the most amazing times of my life. So, hopefully we'll have a great crowd in there and relive a little of the past for Ohio State basketball."

Matta was asked about speaking at Skull Session and being on the field for the 37-21 victory over Michigan last Saturday at Ohio Stadium.

"I've never – in all the schools I've been – I've never seen more loyal fans," Matta said. "I mean, these people love the Buckeyes. For me as a coach, that's a great support system. Every day when you wake up you have not only the city of Columbus, but the state of Ohio and it's kind of an honor to wake up and be the coach here."

Of course, the Buckeyes are coming off a tough 65-63 overtime loss to Creighton in the finals of the Guardian Classic.

"It's one of those things that obviously we've got to look at it, learn from it and move forward," Matta said. "One thing that we've asked this team to do is play hard and play together. We had some miscues, but you can't change that and I think we're getting these guys to understand what we could have done differently, what we hopefully can correct and move forward."

Matta believes OSU's defense is coming along well.

"Yeah, I think it's getting better," he said. "When you play a team like Creighton that's very disciplined you've got to stay sound and we had a couple breakdowns down the stretch. I think one thing that hurt us was that we had an hour to prepare for them. We had some miscues that got us and we had gone from 40 practices to a one-hour practice and tried to change some things. It was effective when it worked, but when we didn't completely do it, it bit us a little bit."

Matta has stressed the importance of winning all home games.

"That's got to be one of the big things," he said. "We've got a great opponent coming in here tomorrow night. They're very talented. Our focus is going to remain on us – especially in the early part of the season like this. We have to correct what we can correct and continue to get better. When we go back to practice today, it will be back to work, just like these guys have done. They've done a good job. I think this team is making progress, I really do."

Matta is not sure what to expect from Chattanooga tomorrow.

"They have a new coach, who was an assistant there," he said. "They're a very talented team. I actually coached in the Southern Conference a few years ago and there's some great talent, great players down there. So, it will be a little bit of a guessing game, because they haven't played a game yet this year. So, this is one where obviously we've got to be more concerned with ourselves, as we always are. We hope our system is in place to handle whatever it may be."

Well, Chattanooga has played in a game – just not against a Division I opponent. Chris Brown led six players in double figures Nov. 20 as Chattanooga defeated Toccoa Falls 113-52 to give head coach John Shulman a victory in his first game as a head coach. Brown finished with 19 points and six rebounds.


* Ohio State junior center/captain Terence Dials has started the season fairly well – averaging 10.2 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. He would obviously prefer if the team was standing at 5-0 right now, but 4-1 is not all that bad.

"I think we have some good things going right now," Dials said. "Obviously the loss set us back a little bit because we had a lot of mental errors that we need to correct. So, hopefully we can get those corrected before the start of this game tomorrow."

Dials is looking forward to lacing them up in St. John tomorrow.

"I'm excited, because I haven't played there before," he said. "I know it gets real loud there, so I'm excited to just play in a different venue, still in Columbus. I have never even been to a basketball game at St. John – except the girls (NCAA) tournament last year. It will be a different experience. It was loud that day, so hopefully we'll get it rocking. Hopefully get some fans out and give them something to see."

After a loss, the Buckeyes just want to play again and get the sour taste out of their mouths.

"Yeah, we want to get back on the court," Dials said. "We want to prove to ourselves that we can win in close situations. That was part of our problem last year and now we face some of the same problems. You know, free throw shooting, just some of the mental errors and breakdowns that we can't have at the end of the games."

Creighton is a solid team, but OSU allowed a nine-point lead slip away.

"Yeah, closing the deal is the biggest part of the game," Dials said. "We got a little complacent towards the end and we were up big and they got a couple key turnovers and the game kind of turned around for them. We just couldn't pull it out. They had momentum and somehow we didn't focus on the little things to win the game."

Dials says effort isn't a problem for OSU, but mental focus could be.

"Yeah, I don't think it's learning to play 40 minutes hard, I think it's learning to just focus for 40 minutes," he said. "Creighton was a very veteran team. We knew they weren't going to go away because they've been to the tournament, they know how to win. So, that's just part of the learning curve that we have right now and we'll get it."

Chances are good the Buckeyes will be fighting for an NCAA Tournament bid in March. They likely won't be a lock to make it, and they probably won't be out of the race either. All signs point to them being a bubble team. Therefore, they need to pick up all the non-conference wins they can muster.

"Yeah, non-conference games are always important, especially in the Big Ten because it's so hard to get victories during the conference schedule," Dials said. "So, we're just trying to come out here and get every win possible, especially at home."

The 6-foot-9 Dials has been pleasantly surprised with the play of some of OSU's new players.

"Everybody is playing at a good level," he said. "I think some of the new guys – Jamar (Butler), Je'Kel (Foster) and Matt Terwilliger – have really impressed me. They're coming in and giving us major minutes and guys are fresh because everybody is coming in and contributing pretty good.

"We're a lot deeper than since I've been here. Since my freshman year at least. It helps. Keeps guys fresh; keeps them going."

* The most improved player on the team from last season is sophomore forward Ivan Harris. He's averaging 8.4 points and four boards per game and his shot looks as smooth as can be.

"Yeah, I'm just feeling comfortable with my shot," Harris said. "I'm not rushing anything. I'm taking my time and having fun. I've been in a rhythm and I feel comfortable with my shot right now. So, I'm just shooting and having fun."

Like Dials, Harris has taken notice of a few of the new players.

"Yeah, Je'Kel, he's shooting well," Harris said. "If he's open, he's knocking that shot down. And Jamar Butler, he's taking care of that ball. And that's what we need. We need the new guys to step up."

Harris can't wait to play in St. John Arena against Chattanooga.

"Growing up as a Buckeye fan, nothing could be better," he said. "I watched a lot of games there, now I get to play in a game there with an Ohio State jersey on. It's going to be fun."

Harris isn't letting the Creighton loss get him down. He is pleased with the 4-1 start to the season.

"We started the season off pretty good," he said. "We had this one loss, but we're going to bounce back and tomorrow we're going to play hard and see what happens. Big Ten coming up pretty soon, we've just got to win these next few games and just have confidence and start off on a good foot."

Harris was asked if this year's OSU team is better than the 2003-04 version.

"It's hard to say," he said. "We just play together and we're an exciting team. Run and gun. Coach Matta stresses us about defense and that's how we won our first four games."

* Senior guard Tony Stockman has also opened the season with strong play, averaging a team-best 14.4 points per game.

"Yeah, playing pretty well," Stockman said. "But there's some stuff I could be doing better. Just the last game, turned the ball over a couple times, got in foul trouble, stuff like that. So, there's a lot of things I can work on."

Stockman says the team can learn a few things from the Creighton loss.

"Just the things that we need to work on," he said. "Sometimes we didn't execute stuff on offense and defense. Just address those things and the stuff we need to work on, like free throws, and understand that we're not as good as some of us thought before that game. We have to keep working and keep getting better."

But Stockman has noticed a fighting attitude that the Bucks lacked last season.

"It tells us something about us – about our teammates," he said. "I think that makes a lot of us happy. There were times last year when we gave up, I felt, or we got down on ourselves. In the Creighton game, we didn't. It will be a big test for us to come back this next game and see what we can do. We need to come back and play hard and do the things we're supposed to do and learn from it."

Stockman was asked what Matta said to the team following the loss.

"He just talked about how we let it slip away, but it's not the end of the world," Stockman said. "One loss, we just have to come back and make sure we get better. Make sure we learn from it."

Like everyone else on the team, Stockman is looking forward to playing in St. John.

"We're excited," he said. "The tradition there, the people that have played there. You think about all that stuff and you get excited. It gives a little something extra to the game, I think. So, we're going to be ready to play and excited to play tomorrow night."

Students are not on campus right now, but Stockman still thinks it will be plenty loud in the old arena.

"It will be a lot more fans than we had in Kansas City," he joked. "But it will be the same thing as it always is. Just pumping each other up. Make sure we're all excited. I think coming off of that loss, we're going to be ready."

Stockman would obviously prefer to be undefeated at this point, but he feels the team is headed in the right direction.

"Yes, we're happy with the 4-1, but we'd love to be 5-0," he said. "We just have to make sure we learn from it and get ready for this upcoming game."

* Junior forward Matt Sylvester – who is averaging 6.2 points a game – has never played a game in St. John Arena.

"No, I haven't," he said. "But last year we had a couple practices in St. John Arena and we'll get to practice today over in St. John. I've seen games that have been played there, with Jimmy Jackson and those guys and I'm really excited to get over there and play in that building because I remember from the first time I ever went in there I remember saying, ‘This would be a great arena to play in.'"

Sylvester thinks that St. John will be a great atmosphere for a college basketball game.

"From practicing there, I really did feel like it was a shooter's gym," he said. "I think it has a really nice shooting background. It doesn't have as open of a feeling as Schottenstein does. It's a little more enclosed – almost like a high school-type atmosphere. But it's just got great character and atmosphere. It seems like a great place to play."

Sylvester says the season is going well so far for the Buckeyes.

"Yeah, we're happy, but we're not satisfied," he said. "We let the last one slip away, we basically handed (Creighton) a gift-wrapped win – an early Christmas present. They stole that one from us and we made a few mental errors down the stretch that we shouldn't have made, but we're going to get back to the drawing board and we're going to come back strong. If we learn from it, then maybe it was a good thing."

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