Buckeyes Head To Bayou Country

Ohio State is in the midst of the Big Ten basketball season, but the Buckeyes will take a break from conference play Saturday when they will face off with LSU in Baton Rouge. Here is a preview.

Ohio State takes a break from its Big Ten schedule Saturday as the Buckeyes head to LSU for an 8 p.m. tip-off at the Maravich Center.

The Tigers (7-5) are coming off of a 79-64 home victory over South Carolina Wednesday.

LSU has a very good starting five, but does not have a deep bench.

Brandon Bass, a 6-8 sophomore forward, leads the team in scoring (16.3) and rebounding (8.3).

The other starters include: 6-6 senior guard Antonio Hudson (13.4 points per game), 6-9 freshman center Glen "Big Baby" Davis (13 ppg, 7.4 rebounds per game), 5-11 junior guard Darrel Mitchell (12.4 ppg) and 5-11 sophomore guard Tack Minor (12.1 ppg, 5.7 assists per game).

Davis is listed at 310 pounds, but that might be with only one foot on the scale.

LSU's bench does not have anyone averaging more than 3.2 points per game. However, with a starting five that talented, the Tigers are a dangerous team, especially at home.

"This is an NCAA team," Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said. "LSU is a great basketball team. I view this as a great challenge. We're going on the road, playing a great basketball team and it's another game for us."

With the Buckeyes (12-4) banned from postseason play, big road games might serve as their de-facto tournament.

"No question," Matta said. "No question about that. These are all games that we have to look at and say, ‘Hey, this is our tournament.' I wish it was a neutral site like the tournament, but unfortunately we have to go to Baton Rouge."

Matta has been very impressed with what he has seen from LSU on film.

"With the exception of Davis, they're an experienced group," he said. "Extremely talented at the guard position. They have the type of guards that any of the guys could come out and get 20, 25 on you. And then obviously Bass is an incredible talent. He's a preseason first-team all-league selection in the SEC. And then Davis, in the two SEC games, is averaging 21 points and 11 rebounds as a freshman. So, they're a very talented basketball team."

Matta was asked if OSU center Terence Dials is the key to beating LSU, since the Tigers have two quality post players.

"Well, honestly, I think one through five, they're all key matchups," he said. "Because Hudson, Mitchell, Minor have all shown they can get 25 points in a game, as well as the big guys. I think that says a lot about how talented LSU is. But I think the inside, the way Davis is playing right now, tells you the type of player he is."

Ohio State is coming off a 72-66 loss at Wisconsin Tuesday. The Buckeyes were right with the Badgers for most the game, but then Wisconsin started to pull away in the second half. However, the Bucks didn't quit and actually had a chance to get back in the game in the final minutes.

"No, and that's something that I felt was good, that we never counted ourselves out of that game and got it to within four with under a minute to go, which is hard to do at Wisconsin," Matta said. "On tape, you would see teams that got down and could never recovered. Hopefully we can take and learn from that, but most importantly, learn how not to get down by 13 points and let them get out to a run to start the second half.

"You've got to be able to counter runs, and most importantly, get stops. Wisconsin came out to start the second half and we had no answers for them. I felt that we grew a little bit impatient defensively and as we looked at the tape with our guys, hopefully they see that and know that LSU – I just watched them go on a 13-0 run and a 14-0 run against a very good opponent (South Carolina)."

As a reporter pointed out, Ohio State is going from a slow-down, methodical pace that Wisconsin likes to play, to the up-tempo flow of LSU. That fits into the style of a few of OSU's players.

"Well, their ‘let it loose' mentality, I beg to differ on that," Matta said of his players. "But we try and distinguish good shot from bad shot. But I think this will be an up-tempo style of game. And make no mistake about it: LSU is a team that is best in transition. They will race the ball up the floor and will shoot it quick. We have to do a great job of setting our defense and taking away the things that they want to do quick and make them run their offense."

Matta says the Tigers remind him a bit of Cincinnati and a few other teams that he has faced.

"Yeah, I think Cincinnati would be a good analogy," he said. "I think Illinois, I think Illinois is extremely athletic and long, as these guys are. So, I would say along those lines, that would be the type of team. In the past, a Mississippi State, a Texas, Duke even is what these guys remind me of. LSU has the capabilities of being an NCAA team this year."

Ohio State beat Texas Tech in Dallas on a "neutral" site earlier this season, but has not won any games in an opposing team's home this year. The Bucks would love to pick up their first in Baton Rouge.

"No doubt about it," Matta said. "We need to get something like that. I think this would be a great win for our program and the fact that it is on the road – obviously I'd like to get it for several reasons – but one being this is a Big Ten caliber team and it would show us we can go on the road and win."

Dials continues to lead the Buckeyes in scoring (16) and rebounding (8.3). He was on his way to a good game at Wisconsin, but was saddled with some very questionable calls. Matta was asked how frustrating it is when Dials is called for touch fouls.

"Well, it pisses the hell out of me," he said. "Sorry. No, I think we've got to continue to show Terence his fouls. He's got to continue to clean it up a little bit and he can do that. Terence is a very intelligent player. There is no mistaking that we need him on the court playing for us."

Dials is the only viable post threat that the Buckeyes have on their roster and the team cannot afford – offensively or defensively – for him to get in foul trouble. Does the coaching staff talk to Dials about that?

"Yeah, we do," Matta said. "But there's such a fine line. I go back to when I was coaching David West (at Xavier) and there was a stage during his career when we had seven scholarship players and he was the only center that we had. There's such a fine line between playing hard and playing smart. You've got to do both. You've got to analyze situations and you've got to know what your predicament is when that happens. But I don't ever want any of our players to take a possession off because they could potentially be in foul trouble or anything like that."

Every team Ohio State plays this year is going to try and get Dials in foul trouble. Matta has talked extensively with his staff about that.

"Yeah, we have," he said. "I think it's something that's going to plague us all year. We just have to learn to deal with it and keep putting better heat on the ball, and post-wise, do our work earlier and not give them such great position."

* Senior guard Tony Stockman has been struggling to find his shot recently, but is still second on the club in scoring (14.3).

Stockman knows the Buckeyes let one get away in Madison Tuesday.

"I think we feel frustrated a little bit," he said. "We feel as if we did let it get away. (Alando) Tucker was out and stuff like that. We had a good chance at the beginning, but Terence got in foul trouble and I think that hurt us a little bit. But I think if we played the way we usually play, we would have got the win. So, kind of frustrated about that, but ready and eager to get back out and play."

With all apologies to the Grateful Dead, it's a bit of a "long strange trip" going to play a game at LSU in the middle of the Big Ten season.

"Yeah, it is," Stockman said. "It's going to be a little different getting out of the Big Ten. Good team though. LSU is a good team. I think we're excited to go down there and try and get one o the road. We haven't got one on the road at their place – we got one against Texas Tech on a neutral court – but we're trying to get one at the team's home. Just trying to do that and take care of business and do what we've got to do."

LSU is 6-1 at home and 1-4 on the road. Obviously it is a tough team to beat in the Maravich Center.

"I did not know that yet," Stockman said. "But now hearing it from you, I guess they are doing what they have to do at home, just like you have to do to get to the tournament and stuff like that. I guess we're trying to be like a spoiler and go down there and try and get a win."

Stockman was asked what he knows about LSU's personnel.

"Just a little bit," he said. "Just about Big Baby and Bass and stuff like that in their post. And their guards, they're going to put it up and they're going to run and stuff like that. Those are the things that I think we know about them. Just concentrate on getting back, transition defense, and try and limit Big Baby's touches in the post."

Stockman thinks containing Bass and Davis is one of the keys to victory for OSU. "Yeah, it is going to be key for us," he said. "Just try and stop them, or contain them, I guess. Keep Terence out of foul trouble is going to be a focus of interest for us. I think if we do those things – keep (Dials) out of foul trouble and try and limit (Davis' and Bass') touches – I think we'll have a good chance to win."

* Junior guard/forward J.J. Sullinger is third on the team in scoring (10.6) and second in rebounding (5.3). He is Ohio State's only player that has experience playing at LSU. Sullinger faced the Tigers when he was at Arkansas.

"Yeah, I played there my freshman year," he said. "I've been telling the guys that it's a different atmosphere down there. Anything goes in the SEC. I'm looking forward to it man. I've kind of had this game dated on my calendar a little bit. Just to go back to where you started is always fun."

How did Sullinger play in his one trip to the Maravich Center?

"Actually, I had the turnover to lose the game," he said. "So, hopefully I won't do that again. But it's a good atmosphere. I enjoyed playing there."

Sullinger thinks its good to get out of the conference and face something different.

"LSU is a good team, so it's definitely a good situation for us," he said. "I'm looking forward to the fact that we get to play somebody that we normally would not play. It is kind of like our tournament since we can't play in the postseason."

Like Stockman, Sullinger is still smarting from the Wisconsin loss.

"We've got to get something back from that one," he said. "We kind of let that one get away from us. It's a good opportunity for us to bounce back. It's going to be good to see how we respond."

Sullinger gave his scouting report on the Tigers.

"They are an up and down team and they can shoot the ball real well," he said. "All of their perimeter guys can shoot the ball real well. They've got a real big guy (Davis) who is huge and is doing real well. He's a freshman and I think his nickname is Big Baby. He's a real good guy. We're looking forward to it."

Notes: This will be the first meeting between OSU and LSU. … Overall, the Buckeyes have faced every other team representing the Southeastern Conference at least once. Ohio State has an overall record of 27-24 against SEC teams. … The Buckeyes own victories against all SEC teams except Georgia (0-1). The last SEC team to face the Buckeyes was Alabama at the Hall of Fame Tipoff Classic in Springfield, Mass., Nov. 29, 2002. Ohio State fell to the No. 4-ranked Crimson Tide 54-48. … The Buckeyes last defeated an SEC member March 18, 1999 in Knoxville, Tenn. Ohio State downed No. 4 Auburn 71-64 in the South Regional Semifinals of the NCAA tournament on its way to the Final Four. Ohio State also downed Mississippi in the title game of the Puerto Rico Holiday Classic that year 67-62 Dec. 23, 1998 and handled Alabama 78-70 that same season at Value City Arena in the second game played in the venue Nov. 15, 1998, 78-70. The last Ohio State victory on an SEC school campus was Nov. 3, 1982, an 80-74 victory at Florida.

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