Buckeyes, Hoosiers To Battle in Columbus

Ohio State and Indiana have engaged in some heated battles over the years. Tuesday, the teams will face off in Columbus with fourth place in the Big Ten on the line. Indiana guard Bracey Wright's status is still questionable (ankle sprain). Here is a preview.

Ohio State will host Indiana Tuesday (7 p.m., ESPN) with fourth place in the Big Ten standings on the line.

The Buckeyes (17-8, 6-5) are coming off a 66-56 win at Penn State Saturday, just their second road victory of the season.

The Hoosiers (11-10, 6-4) recorded a big 71-56 victory over visiting Minnesota Saturday, despite playing without star guard Bracey Wright.

Wright, a 6-3 junior guard, leads Indiana in scoring at 18.5 points per game. He has missed the last two games with an ankle sprain and it is not clear if he will play against OSU.

D.J. White, a 6-9 freshman forward, has picked up the slack recently. Overall, he is averaging 13.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game and could be the top freshman in the conference.

The rest of IU's starting lineup includes: 6-5 freshman G/F Robert Vaden (10.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg), 6-2 junior guard Marshall Strickland (7.1 ppg, 3.0 assists per game), 6-2 freshman guard A.J. Ratliff (6.1 ppg) and 6-8 sophomore forward Pat Ewing (4.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg).

Indiana defeated the Buckeyes 67-60 in Bloomington on Jan. 22. Ohio State's Thad Matta has never been swept in a two-game regular season series during his four years as a head coach.

"This is obviously a team that has already beaten us once," Matta said of Indiana. "As you go to game two of a conference series, you look back at why you lost the first game and try and get yourself prepared. I think the records are pretty similar, so it's a meaningful game."

Matta is not sure if Wright will play. He tried to give it a go against Minnesota, but had to shut it down following a pregame workout. He looked good shooting, but could not run without a serious limp.

"I don't know," Matta said of Wright's status. "They won without him Saturday and obviously he's a tremendous player. I saw the ankle sprain, but I don't know a whole lot about if he's going to play or not, but we'll prepare as though he is."

Indiana has arguably the best freshman class in the Big Ten.

"They have a tremendous foundation," Matta said. "I think D.J. White is probably one of the best post guys we've gone against this year. Ratliff and Vaden are two guys I've seen play since they were in eighth grade and both guys are really doing well for them. So, I think their foundation is really strong."

Matta and the Buckeyes are closing in on a 20-win season. Since they are not playing for the NCAA Tournament, reaching 20 wins would be a good achievement. But Matta said the team did not set any specific goals, as far as number of wins, heading into the season.

"No," he said. "I honestly didn't know what to expect through the Big Ten, and I didn't know what to expect from our guys. And that's honestly why we probably chose the path of one day at a time. Because we still... Saturday's game at Penn State was another lesson for us. We're going into a place where we hadn't played very well last year and how are we going to respond? How are we going to play on the road? We now have two road wins -- at Northwestern, at Penn State -- and I thought it was an interesting challenge for us. I was happy with the ways the guys played."

Over the years, Ohio State-Indiana basketball has been a rivalry game. Obviously nothing like OSU-Michigan in football, but if you ask the average OSU basketball fan, they will most likely tell you the Hoosiers are OSU's rival. But Matta says every team in the Big Ten could be considered a rival.

"What I've found is that the games are so much more important because of the Big Ten," he said. "I view every (conference) game that we play as a huge rivalry game."

Ohio State's 6-9 junior center Terence Dials is averaging 15.5 points and eight rebounds per game. He is the unquestioned leader of the team, but the Buckeyes have proven lately that they can survive without Dials on the floor. He tends to get in foul trouble, and early in the season, that might have meant an automatic loss for OSU. But against the Nittany Lions, the Bucks did most of their damage in the second half with Dials on the bench.

"I think you go to the Northwestern game where he was in foul trouble and we made a big run when he wasn't in there," Matta said. "And the other day (against Penn State) we're up two and he picks up his fourth foul and we get it to 11. You hope that guys have more of an appreciation of what they're capable of. But I don't ever want them to lose sight of how important Terence is to us, because we need him playing his best basketball."

The Buckeyes miss Dials' scoring when he's out of the game, but it goes beyond that.

"We have to do a better job of rebounding when he is out of the game," Matta said. "That's one of the things that we may talk about at timeouts is that we've got to have all five guys rebounding the ball because he's not in there."

Sophomore forward Ivan Harris pulled down a game-high eight rebounds against PSU. It was a good sign for the future.

"It was huge, because we had challenged him to rebound the ball," Matta said. "I think he has the skills to do it and it was good to see he responded to the challenge we asked him to do. It was huge for us because we need rebounding at that four spot."

* Freshman point guard Jamar Butler seems to play a little better each time out. He's not being asked to score this year, but he is playing good defense and distributing the ball.

"I feel like I'm a lot more comfortable," he said. "I'm trying to take care of the ball and help my team. Coming in as a freshman and playing the point guard, it's difficult because you have to be verbal, run your team, make sure everybody is where they're supposed to be at. So it's hard being a freshman and playing with upperclassmen and doing that."

Butler gave the scouting report on the Hoosiers.

"They're very athletic," he said. "Three athletic freshmen in the starting lineup and Bracey Wright, one of the best players in the nation. They have a great team."

When asked how much it will hurt Indiana if Wright cannot play, Butler responded: "I don't know because I haven't really seen them play without him. But they've been winning without him, so they must be doing fine."

With three freshman in IU's lineup, this could be a good game for Butler to prove that OSU has some good newcomers as well. But he's not concerned with the individual battles.

"I don't really want to show what I've got, I just want to play within our system and play with my team and try and get a win," Butler said.

* As for junior forward J.J. Sullinger, he took some proper ribbing for the technical foul he picked up late in the game against Penn State, following a Matt Sylvester 3-pointer. Sullinger is a good guy, so the T took everyone by surprise. But his teammates have been kind enough to remind him of it the last couple days.

"I just got excited and said, 'Yeah,' real loud, and at the same time I was in someone's face," Sullinger explained.

Sullinger says he and his teammates are not trying to downplay the Indiana game. They know the season is winding down and this is a big game.

"It's huge," he said. "I think the game (Tuesday) is for lone fourth place, which if we were playing the Big Ten Tournament would lead us into the second day, instead of playing the first day. So that's big.

"Also, Indiana got us the first time, so you don't want to get swept or anything like that. So, it's huge for us."

But like Matta said, the Buckeyes do not view Indiana as their rival. They think every team in the conference is a rival (hey, tell that to Jimmy Jackson and Damon Bailey, right?).

"Every Big Ten game is huge for us," Sullinger said. "We don't like to make one more special than the other. Indiana has great tradition, so does Ohio State, so it's going to be a good battle."

Notables

* Matta is 66-7 in his career in home games as a head coach.

* OSU is 89-21 all-time in VCA and 13-1 at home this year (one game was at St. John Arena).

* Indiana head coach Mike Davis is 92-63 overall in six years.

* Indiana leads the all-time series with Ohio State 98-69, but OSU holds a 3-2 advantage at Value City Arena.

* The victory over Penn State last Saturday gave the Buckeyes 17 wins in Matta's first season. Gary Williams, who coached at Ohio State from 1987-89, owns the record with 20 wins for a first year coach at Ohio State. Matta, the 13th head coach in Ohio State history, is a win away from taking sole possession of second place for wins by a first year coach at OSU. He is currently tied for the No. 2 spot with George M. Trautman (1920-22) and Randy Ayers (1990-1997), each with 17 wins in their first season at Ohio State.


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