OSU Hits The Road To Meet St. Joe's

Ohio State was not a good road team a year ago, but the Buckeyes have a chance to get off on the right foot when they travel to Philadelphia to take on St. Joseph's on Saturday. Ohio State has not played in nearly two weeks, but head coach Thad Matta does not seem concerned about the layoff. Here is a preview of the game.

Ohio State will have its first road test of the season on Saturday when it travels to Philadelphia's historic Palestra to take on St. Joseph's (2 p.m., ESPN).

The Buckeyes (3-0) have not played since Nov. 28 when they knocked off Virginia Tech, 69-56, in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

The Hawks (4-1) are fresh off their most impressive win of the young season, a 70-67 victory over Kansas Tuesday at the Jimmy V Classic in New York.

Ohio State is 4-0 all-time against St. Joseph's, including a 72-61 victory last season in Columbus on New Year's Eve.

Chet Stachitas (19.8 ppg.), Abdulia Jalloh (12.8), and Dwayne Lee (12.4) all average double digits offensively for the Hawks. Jalloh leads the way with 5.8 rebounds a game.

"They're a veteran team and there's three guys on this team that play an intricate role on a team that won 28 straight games and was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament," OSU coach Thad Matta said. "They've got experience at the right positions. Their guard play, they are doing the majority of the shooting, majority of the scoring.

"I look at this game and I think it's a great challenge for our guys. You're playing a very good basketball team on the road. I think our guys are excited to go and play that first road test."

Matta knows all about the Hawks. When he was at Xavier, he led the Musketeers to an Atlantic 10 Tournament victory over St. Joe's, ending its 28-game winning streak.

The Hawks always seem to have a collection of good shooters and this year is no different.

"With the veteran guards that they have in Stachitas and Lee, those guys understand," Matta said. "Stachitas can really shoot the ball. We know that going in and we've got to try and have a defensive performance the way we did last year."

Matta was asked if he's concerned about OSU's long layoff between games.

"Honestly, you don't know," he said. "Really, it's kind of like I told the guys, we've just been playing basketball. We've been practicing and getting better. You don't know how it's going to shape up, but I know this: we have not let our foot off the throttle. If anything, we've probably gone a little bit too much with them. Six straight days, then we took a day off, then came back in (Wednesday) and had a great workout. As I told them, you've got some days off, but then you're playing four games in seven days. That's the perfect world for those guys because they love to play games."

Matta revealed what he currently likes about his team, and what still makes him uneasy.

"Well, I think, number one, I don't like the turnovers," he said. "We've got to continue to do a better job of taking care of the ball. I do like the fact that we are shooting 52.5 percent from the field. I think our rebounding is getting better. It's always going to be a question mark for us. I like our depth and our quickness that we've got at certain positions has been good for us. I think as we continue to move through this, we've got to get guys to understand what they do well and do it every time they're on the floor."

Ohio State forward J.J. Sullinger is having a very productive season thus far. The 6-5 senior is averaging 9.7 points per game, but more importantly, he leads the club in rebounding at 11.3 per game.

"You look at a guy like James Sullinger rebounding the basketball, that's huge for us," Matta said. "James has really answered the challenge that we set for him to go rebound the basketball. You saw glimpses of it last year. Maybe once a game, maybe once a week. And we needed it every possession."

Senior center Terence Dials leads OSU in scoring at 15.3 points per game and is second in rebounding with a 7.0 clip. Matta has been pleased with the way Dials has practiced recently.

"Just been more active and is finishing better around the basket," Matta said. "Just seemed honestly to have more energy and flow for a two hour and 30 minute practice."

Foul trouble will always be a concern with Dials. He has a tendency to pick up cheap fouls early in the game and when he is not on the floor, the Buckeyes are a much different team.

"Obviously Terence is so important to what we're about and keeping him on the floor is important," Matta said.

Ohio State does not have a particularly big team – at least not for Big Ten standards – but the Buckeyes will have a size advantage over St. Joe's.

"You don't know how a game is going to be called," Matta said. "I think the big thing for us is doing what we do, and if it is the size advantage, let's play a physical-type game. But with that size advantage, you hope you do a good job in the areas where you are allowed to be physical of rebounding and defending and screening and those types of things."

Ohio State is 3-3 all-time at the Palestra. The Buckeyes lost to Pennslyvania, 91-71, in their last trip to the arena in 1994.

One person at OSU who knows a lot about the Palestra is women's coach Jim Foster. He is a Philly native and coached at St. Joe's.

"It's one of the great buildings and atmospheres in college basketball," Foster said of the 8,722-seat arena. "It's a small bandbox of a gym with no bad seats. The amenities pale in comparison to most places, but one walk around the corridors will let you know you're in a special place."

Will Foster have mixed emotions watching the game, or will he be pulling for the Buckeyes?

"I'm very firmly aware of who pays my check," he said.

* Ohio State senior forward Matt Sylvester watched St. Joe's win over Kansas and came away impressed.

"I think they're very talented and obviously Kansas is young and made some mistakes that young guys will do," Sylvester said. "St. Joe's took advantage of it because they're a smart team."

The Buckeyes struggled on the road last year and getting a win in a hostile environment would be a good accomplishment.

"I think it's a very big game," Sylvester said. "It's going to be a test and that's one thing that we really wanted to improve on this year is how we play on the road. So, we're going to see where we're at."

For OSU players such as junior college transfer Sylvester Mayes and freshman forward Brayden Bell, it will be their first experience playing on the road in major college basketball.

"Well, they certainly haven't seen anything like this in their lives as of yet," Sylvester said. "So, I'm curious to see how they'll handle it. But I think they'll be fine. They're tough kids."

What advice would Sylvester give them about playing on the road?

"I would tell them not to spit in anybody's face," Sylvester joked, in reference to a certain incident at Michigan State last season. "You just got to be tough. Don't have a glass jaw, have thick skin. You're going to hear some wild stuff, so get ready."

Sylvester is averaging just 3.7 points and 3.0 rebounds per game. But the season is young and he's not down on himself.

"I've just been trying to focus on my rebounding and defense," he said. "I wasn't making shots there for a little while, then I really started to focus on getting rebounds and playing defense and the shots just kind of came without me even thinking about it. I've had a good week and now I'm just ready to get out there."

Buckeye Notes

Matta will be in attendance for Thursday night's meeting between Indianapolis Lawrence North and Dayton Dunbar at The University of Butler's Hinkle Fieldhouse (the site of the movie Hoosiers). Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. play for Lawrence North, and Daequan Cook plays for Dunbar. They are part of OSU's 2006 recruiting class, ranked by most analysts as the top class in the country.

"The old John Chaney line: I hope both teams play well tonight," Matta said. "And honestly it is a unique opportunity to go watch three recruits play against each other. But it's great for those guys to get in that environment and play a nationally televised game (7:30; ESPN2). I've seen Dunbar, but I haven't seen Lawrence North yet."

* Matta says he is not nervous about the NCAA's investigation of OSU, which is expected to wrap up in the near future.

"No, because if I was involved in it, I would be. I'm still not exactly sure what is everything that has transpired in the deal. I have great confidence in Ohio State and the NCAA that hopefully we'll be in good shape. It weighs on your mind every now and then if you allow it to, but it's an odd situation and we've just had to play the hand we've been dealt.

"I don't think anything will be determined (Friday). I think it's going to take some time."


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