Ohio State heads south to take on Clemson in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge Wednesday.
The game marks a homecoming of sorts for OSU senior guard Tony Stockman. Stockman is an Ohio native, but played his first two collegiate seasons at Clemson.
Ohio State (5-1) head coach Thad Matta was asked what he will do to make Stockman feel comfortable heading into possibly a hostile environment.
"We're going to try to get Tony at least 50 shots," Matta joked. "No, honestly I think with Tony, one thing I give him credit for is I think he's embraced what we're trying to do. I really believe that when you go play - when they toss the ball up - you kind of forget about everything and you focus in one what you have to do. I think Tony will do that just fine. I honestly have no worries about that."
Matta has been impressed with Stockman on and off the court so far this season.
"I think he's been a good leader for this team," Matta said. "He understands how we want to play and I think he's made a real strong commitment to the defensive end of the floor. Those are the things that we need him to do. I think he's been helpful for the young guys and has helped get them adapted to what college basketball is like."
The Clemson faithful will likely give Stockman a hard time throughout the game. Matta advises his players to just block that stuff out.
"Yeah, you have to," Matta said. "And I've never been one to hear what people are saying anyway. You get into what you're doing. I think Tony enjoyed his time down there. He's always said positive things about his experience at Clemson, so I think he's looking forward to playing the game. He's a very mature fifth year senior and I don't think that stuff with bother him."
Stockman leads the Buckeyes in scoring at 14.7 points per game. His shot selection has been a little bit better than last year so far.
"I think it's been good," Matta said. "He's shot a couple, but we talk about those. But I've got honestly no problems with what he's doing. That's his mentality and it definitely helps matters when they go in."
Matta was asked if he and his staff have done anything new with Stockman, compared to what he was taught at Clemson and with Jim O'Brien at OSU.
"I'll be honest, I've never really asked him about the past, as I've done with all the guys," Matta said. "We try to treat our guys a certain way and bring them along and get them to understand team first and what we're trying to do. I commend Tony. I think he's been great from that perspective for us."
The ACC has dominated the Big Ten in recent years and Matta is hoping to turn the tables. However, what he is really focused on is the Buckeyes improving, no matter who they're playing.
"This is the first time I've followed it relatively close," Matta said of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. "As I told some people in South Carolina when they asked about it, our team is not in good enough shape right now to be thinking about conferences or anything like that. We're more concerned with Ohio State and try to go down and play our best basketball. I personally did not know there was that much made of the ACC versus the Big Ten. Hopefully we can go down and take care of our part."
Matta says the Tigers (2-1) will bring a lot of athletic ability to the floor.
"I know they're a very athletic team," he said. "They've got good size and length inside. They've got good depth - they're playing about 10 guys. Shawan Robinson can really shoot the ball. He's a kid that we recruited to Xavier. He's 13 for 19 from 3-point range in three games. So, they're quick at the guard spots, try and apply a lot of pressure. It looks like they are doing some of the same things they did when Coach (Oliver) Purnell was at Dayton when we played them five times in two years."
Robinson, a 6-foot-2, junior guard, is Clemson's leading scorer at 22 points a game.
Creighton was a good team, but this will definitely be OSU's toughest test of the season thus far. You can't practice playing on the road in the ACC.
"I think it's a great challenge for us," Matta said. "Make no mistake about it, we're going to have to play great basketball to have a chance to win the game. But, yeah, I think this sets the tone of going on the road in a tough environment and it will be a good test for us. I'm glad we have six games under our belt already."
Matta tips his cap to Purnell, who had a very fine career at Dayton before moving to Clemson.
"You know, when he was at Dayton, I don't think we ever recruited against him, which is astounding," Matta said. "But I have great respect for him and the job is done everywhere he's been. I think he's got the Clemson program headed in the right direction."
Ohio State is shooting an abysmal 54 percent from the free throw line (46 of 85). Middle school basketball coaches wouldn't be happy with a percentage like that. Matta was asked what the team can do to fix the problem.
"I think repetition is probably the greatest teacher and we've shot a ton of them here in the last few days," he said. "We'll just continue to press upon that because getting to the foul line is very important in the game of basketball. I think all great teams do it. I know we're not shooting them well, but I don't think we're getting there enough either and that's something that we need to improve on as well. The teams I've coached have always… I know two years ago (Xavier) led the country in the biggest free throw difference. So, I think getting more attempts will ultimately help us."
After the Clemson game, the Buckeyes will be off until Dec. 11 when Portland State comes to Columbus. Matta is looking forward to having a full nine days of practice time.
"We are," he said. "Obviously we'll be well aware of their academic schedules, but I think it will give us time to get back and implement some things that we need in our offense and our defense and just get back to normal practices. Work on our defenses and honing in on what we need to do. And the other thing I think we'll be able to do is give a lot of skill instruction to our guys. We haven't had the luxury to do that because when we started the season we were going two-a-days, and once the season started we stopped the two-a-days, but we're playing games it seems like every other day. So, I think that will be another advantageous thing for our guys."
Six games into his OSU career, we asked Matta if there's anything he's been pleasantly surprised about regarding his team.
"Yeah, I think the way the team has shot the ball has been a surprise," he said. "I like our intensity defensively at times. I think that's been good for us. I love the fact that we've taken good care of the basketball. Assist-to-turnover is something that's very, very important to us and right now I don't know that I've had a team that six games into the season that has a better assist-to-turnover ratio."
So far the Buckeyes have 105 assists with just 64 turnovers.
And following the record-breaking night against Chattanooga, they are shooting 42 percent from 3-point range (53 of 126).
Junior center Terence Dials has played decent the first six games, but nothing special. He is averaging 10.3 points and 6.8 rebounds. We asked Matta what can be done to really get Dials going.
"I think with Terence, we need him to play well for us to have a chance to win," Matta said. "I think that it's something that we have to continue to get him in position to where he can be successful. I think that's a big thing for him. We need to concentrate on getting him the ball and he needs to finish for us."
Stockman was the top sophomore scorer in the ACC at 12.2 points per game in 2001-02. Playing time obviously had nothing to do with his transfer, the Medina native just wanted to return to Ohio.
"The biggest reason was just to come home," Stockman said. "To be closer to home, family. That was the biggest reason for me transferring."
Stockman was asked if he's looking forward to showing the Clemson fans that he's a better, more mature player.
"I think if I play my game that's what they will see," he said. "If they've watched any of our games, or kept up with what I'm doing, I think that's what they will see. That's what they have seen. Just playing my game will show them the different player that I am."
Stockman was asked for his reaction when he first heard that OSU would be playing at Clemson.
"I was excited," he said. "I was real excited to know I was going to get to go down there and play again. Play there and play against those guys."
But just a day away, is he still excited about it?
"Yeah, definitely," he said. "I'm still looking forward to it."
Stockman gave us a hint of what to expect in terms of Littlejohn Coliseum and the Clemson fans. He knows the Tiger faithful will probably razz him a little bit, but that goes with the territory.
"It's a nice arena and the crowd is going to be all orange and they're going to be ready to go, just like it goes here," Stockman said. "So, I'm not sure how much they're going to be on me or nothing, but I think it will be fun and it will be a good atmosphere and a good game."
But do Clemson fans get rowdy? Are they going to give it to Stockman all night?
"I mean, they do, but I'm not sure how many hard feelings there are," Stockman said. "But I'm ready for that. I've been playing college basketball for a while now. You get heckled anywhere you go, so I'm used to that."
Stockman scored a career-high 30 points in a CU win over North Carolina in 2001-02. The senior guard was asked if the Clemson fans will remember that he helped beat the Tar Heels.
"I hope so. I hope so," he said with a laugh.
Ohio State has never played Clemson. … The Buckeyes are 1-2 in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Ohio State first played in the event in the 2001-02 season, a home win over N.C. State (64-50). The Buckeyes played a "neutral" game against No. 4 Duke in 2002-03 in Greensboro, N.C., a 91-76 defeat to the Blue Devils. Ohio State played host to No. 13 Georgia Tech last season, but dropped a 73-53 decision to the Yellow Jackets. … The OSU-Clemson game will be televised on ESPN2 beginning at 7:35 p.m.