OSU Hits The Road To Take On Iowa State

The Ohio State men's basketball team will have its second big road test of the season on Saturday when it travels to Des Moines, Iowa, to take on the Iowa State Cyclones. The Buckeyes are looking for their first 7-0 start since 1990-91. We have comments from OSU coach Thad Matta, as well as players J.J. Sullinger, Je'Kel Foster and Jamar Butler.

Ohio State hits the road Saturday to meet Big 12 foe Iowa State (8 p.m. EST; ESPN2).

The No. 25 Buckeyes (6-0) are looking for their first 7-0 start since the 1990-91 season. They are coming off a harder-than-expected 85-75 victory over Belmont on Wednesday.

The Cyclones (6-2) last played on Dec. 9 when they knocked off intra-state rival Iowa, 72-60.

Saturday's game will not be played on Iowa State's campus in Ames. Rather, it will be played in Des Moines at the new Wells Fargo Arena. Des Moines is located 40 miles south of Ames.

Ohio State is 3-0 in the series with the Cyclones with single victories at home, away and a neutral site. The first contest between the schools took place in Columbus Dec. 20, 1965, an 87-70 Buckeye victory. Ohio State then played in Ames, Iowa, Dec. 3, 1966, a close 79-77 Ohio State win. The teams did not meet again until March 4, 1985, in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Tulsa, Okla. Ohio State advanced in the tournament with a 75-64 victory. The teams will meet again next season in Columbus.

Iowa State is led by guard Curtis Stinson (6-3, Jr.) who averages 20 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.

Other top scorers for the Cyclones include forward Rahshon Clark (6-6, So.) with 15.9 points per game, and guard Will Blalock (6-0, Jr.) with 13.3 points.

Ohio State has five players averaging in double figures, led by senior guard Je'Kel Foster (15.3 points). Foster has been lights-out from 3-point range this season, making 16 of 29 attempts for 55 percent.

Other top players for OSU include: senior forward J.J. Sullinger (13 points, 9.3 rebounds), junior guard Ron Lewis (12.7 points), sophomore guard Jamar Butler (11.4 points, 4.2 assists) and senior center Terence Dials (11.2 points, 6.8 rebounds).

The Buckeyes know this is one of those non-conference resume builders. If they are on the bubble come March, beating a good Iowa State team on the road will look good to the NCAA Tournament selection committee.

"This is a big game for us," OSU coach Thad Matta said. "It is another road test for this team. We will be playing a very good basketball team that has played some tremendous basketball. It will be interesting to see how we come out and play."

Matta played at Iowa State two years ago when he was coaching at Xavier.

"Their transition game is tremendous," Matta said. "We played up there a couple of years ago when Blalock and Stinson were freshmen. They scored three-fourths of their points in transition. Getting back and guarding those guys will be so important because they are so explosive."

It will be tough beating Iowa State in Des Moines. But it could be worse for the Buckeyes. It would be even harder to win on ISU's campus in Ames.

"Going into Ames, Iowa, two years ago, that was one of the most hostile environments I have been in," Matta said. "Those people, they love Iowa State basketball. They are taking this game 40 miles away to Des Moines. It should be a great environment."

Matta expects to see some "street ball" from the Cyclones. But the Buckeyes can also play that type of a game.

"I think on Saturday night it will be an up-and-down game," he said. "That's how I like to play. We definitely want to get it and go. We know they will want to do the same thing.

"They're long and athletic and quick. They will gamble and take chances. I feel like we can run an offense. We just have to get into it."

Matta was asked about OSU's ability to win each game thus far this season, despite some obvious deficiencies like rebounding and turnovers.

"The one thing I've said about this team is I am pleased with their level of competitiveness," he said. "They seem more passionate at this stage to win.

"We're still not where we need to be. I am excited as a coach because I think we can play better basketball. We are getting these guys to understand and have a feel for how we want to play. We have five guys averaging in double figures. We are shooting 51 percent from the floor. We're happy with that."

One OSU player who is not struggling hitting the boards is Sullinger. He leads the Big Ten in rebounding. Not bad for a 6-5 player.

Sullinger is looking forward to getting out and running with the Cyclones.

"It should be up and down with a high tempo," he said. "But we want to control the tempo and play at the pace we want to play. We will have to play hard and smart if we want to have a chance to win."

Sullinger enjoys playing in these big games on a national stage.

"We're excited about this opportunity," he said. "Iowa State is in the Big 12. It's on national television. It doesn't get any bigger than that."

Foster, who is having an outstanding season, knows this will be a tough road test.

"Iowa State is a good team," Foster said. "They play together. (Matta) said they would have two of the biggest guards we will play all season talent-wise."

The Buckeyes struggled on the road last season with a 2-8 record. But they got off on the right foot with an 81-74 win over St. Joseph's in Philadelphia last Saturday.

"As far as the win against St. Joe's, the team stuck together," Foster said. "I think we can do a pretty good job on the road. We're pretty confident when we go on the road."

Butler, who has improved tremendously from last season, is also looking forward to the challenge.

"This is what we live for, a game like this and a chance to play against the best guards in the nation," Butler said. "We like to play good teams and competition outside our league. They like to get up and down. It could be a fun game. It will probably be packed. It should be a hostile environment to play in."

Butler runs the show for OSU at the point and he knows taking care of the ball and limiting turnovers will be a big key on Saturday.

"(Matta) was on us," Butler said. "He said we just need to slow down and not let the pressure rattle us. We just need to play the way we play."

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