New Year's Eve Showdown: OSU vs. LSU

Last year, LSU defeated visiting Ohio State in a double-overtime thriller, 113-101. The Buckeyes get another crack at the Tigers on Saturday in the friendly confines of the Schottenstein Center. We have comments from OSU head coach Thad Matta, as well as guard Je'Kel Foster and center Terence Dials on the matchup.

In its final game before the Big Ten season begins, Ohio State will host LSU on Saturday at Value City Arena (1 p.m., ESPN Plus/ESPN U).

The 21st-ranked Buckeyes (9-0) are one of 10 teams across the nation still undefeated. They are coming off an 87-58 win over visiting Gardner-Webb on Wednesday.

The Tigers (7-3) defeated Ohio State, 113-101, in Baton Rouge last season. Their best player from last year – forward Brandon Bass – left early for the NBA. But the Tigers still have plenty of talent on their roster.

LSU is led by guard Darrell Mitchell (5-11, Sr.) who averages 18.8 points per game, and Glen "Big Baby" Davis (6-9, So.) who averages 18.7 points and 10.3 rebounds.

"They're extremely talented," OSU coach Thad Matta said. "Mitchell, their guard, had 32 on us last year, Davis inside is a load, and they've got great complimentary players that are all capable of having a tremendous night. This is a great challenge for us."

Matta was asked if his players still have last year's loss to LSU on their minds.

"I think so," he said. "We haven't dwelled on that a whole lot. We're a different team; they're a different team. The guy that won the game last year was Brandon Bass in the overtime. We had no answers for him. And I say that, Mitchell was phenomenal and Davis had a double-double. So, we're more consumed about us and what we have to do in order to win this game."

LSU's strength is its rebounding abilities. The Tigers are out-rebounding their opponents by over 18 per game (46.9-28.2).

"I think best in the country," Matta said of LSU's board work. "I think that's obviously something they do a good job of hanging their hat on. It's something we've got to contend with."

Matta always stresses the importance of defense. He would like to see the Buckeyes guard better on the perimeter and in the paint.

"A little bit of everywhere," he said. "We haven't been as aware as we need to be. In stretches, we got it. But in other stretches we lose our focus and trying to make the guys aware of that is vitally important and that we don't let our guard down. We're not going to pitch a shutout, but knowing that we've got to be tougher defensively and just more of an awareness all-around of what guys are capable of doing and what they're trying to do."

Ohio State continues to be led by guard Je'Kel Foster (6-2, Sr.). He is averaging 17 points per game and is shooting lights out from 3-point range (59 percent) and the floor (68 percent).

And 6-9 senior center Terence Dials is also coming on for the Buckeyes. He had a season-high 23 points in the win over Gardner-Webb and seems to be hitting his stride at the right time. He is now averaging 13.7 points and seven rebounds per game.

"Yeah, I hope that's the case and he continues to play well," Matta said. "I've said this all along: We need him to play well in order for us to be a good basketball team."

The strong 3-point shooting from OSU's guards has opened up Dials' game recently.

"I think it has," Matta said. "You watch the St. Joe's tape and they were coming down and we were making shots there. And ultimately we want to have both of them going regardless of the situation. I think that does nothing but make us a better offensive team when Terence is scoring inside and we're making shots from the perimeter."

One of the reasons OSU is a nationally-ranked team this year is because of its experience. Not many other teams have three fifth-year seniors on their roster, let alone their starting lineup (Dials, J.J. Sullinger and Matt Sylvester). Foster is a fourth-year senior, but played a lot of big games during his junior college career.

"I think experience, you can never put a price on experience," Matta said. "Guys that have been through the wars and guys who have an appreciation for the length of the season and just the competitiveness that you have to have for six straight months. Every coach's dream is to have guys who understand that and can appreciate that every time you take the floor, it's on. And there's no question that experience helps there."

Ohio State hasn't had a brutal non-conference schedule, but it's been fairly tough. Key wins over Virginia Tech, St. Joseph's and Iowa State will look good to the NCAA selection committee come March. The Buckeyes will actually have one more non-conference game after the LSU game (Florida A&M on Jan. 30) but this is their final big test of the pre-Big Ten slate (which begins Thursday at home against Penn State).

"We want it to prepare us for the Big Ten," Matta said of his non-conference schedule. "And by that, maybe it's the game in Des Moines, or the game at the Palestra, it's Virginia Tech at home, it's LSU at home. You see different styles, you see different players, you see different defenses and offenses. Really trying to test our guys."

Foster en fuego

Foster had a solid season a year ago and many expected he would play even better this year. But very few expected him to lead the Big Ten in shooting percentage and become one of the most dangerous scorers in the conference.

The soft-spoken guard from Natchez, Miss., was asked if he thinks he can keep playing so well.

"I'm pretty sure I can," he said. "With the good teammates that I have and the more we get Terence involved, the more wide-open the shots will be for the perimeter guys. We've got to get Terence more involved with the game-plan, which will open things up for the guards.

"Terence is a great player. He hasn't been scoring a lot, but he's been doing other things for the team. He's doing all the little things that people don't notice. He's doing a lot for this team. He's like the glue of this team."

Foster thinks the Buckeyes are a more physically-fit team this year.

"The coaches did a great job this summer in getting the players in better condition," he said. "We worked on shots, we worked on ball-handling, we did all the other things to be successful. So, I'm not surprised that this team is being successful because we worked very hard in the offseason."

Foster works on his shot daily and he's being rewarded for it. He can usually be found shooting extra after practice.

"I get up enough shots," he said. "Practice makes perfect and I've just tried to take my time and prepare. You always have to be ready and I've just tried to be ready for my teammates."

Foster says he enjoys watching ESPN and seeing "Ohio State" flash by on the ticker with a ranking next to its name.

"Yeah, that's pretty cool," he said. "I've never been ranked in Division I, so it's a great feeling to be ranked. But 20, 21 is not where we want to be at, we want to go higher and climb the polls. We've just got to continue to have good practices and play together."

Like most everyone else, Dials has been impressed with the play of Foster.

"It starts in practice," Dials said. "He's practicing hard and he's hitting shots. He stays after practice to work on his shot and all the extra work has been showing in games. He's going an excellent job of hitting the open shots and even hitting the tough ones. It's all because of hard work and what he does after practice when no one else is there."

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