No. 18 OSU Hits The Road To Meet No. 16 IU

Ohio State-Indiana has been a fairly heated basketball rivalry over the years. On Saturday in Bloomington, the No. 18 Buckeyes and No. 16 Hoosiers will face off for the only time this season. Both teams are playing well and could factor into the race for the Big Ten championship. We have comments from OSU's Thad Matta, Jamar Butler and Je'Kel Foster.

Michigan is obviously Ohio State's rival in football.

But when it comes to basketball, nothing takes a backseat to the OSU-Indiana rivalry from OSU's point of view.

The No. 18 Buckeyes (11-0, 1-0 Big Ten) and No. 16 Hoosiers (9-2, 1-0) will square off Saturday in Bloomington (4 p.m., CBS). And while Illinois and Michigan State are the early favorites in the race for the Big Ten championship, OSU and IU might have something to say about it as well.

Indiana is led by 6-8, 268-pound senior center Marco Killingsworth, a transfer from Auburn. He is averaging a team-best 18.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.

Also averaging double-figures in scoring for the Hoosiers are: 6-5 sophomore guard Robert Vaden (15.1), 6-2 senior guard Marshall Strickland (13.1), and 6-9 sophomore forward D.J. White (10.0).

"This is the best team we've played against," OSU coach Thad Matta said. "I think that from top to bottom, they might be the most talented team in the Big Ten. Killingsworth has been a tremendous addition, they have D.J. White back, and the key seems to be Robert Vaden. It's a great challenge for us and we've got to get the game-plan down (Friday) as quickly as we can and then see what happens."

Few teams in the Big Ten have a twin-towers combination like Killingsworth and White, who is averaging 5.8 boards a game.

"Each game, they're starting to get more and more minutes playing together," Matta said. "I think that's something that we've got to try and find a way to contend with it. It's not a great matchup for us and we're going to have to find ways."

Ohio State's J.J. Sullinger will guard the opposing power forward when he's in the game. Sullinger is only 6-5, but few can match his athletic ability.

Matta is clearly impressed with the bruising Killingsworth, a player who is very versatile for his size.

"I think he's got a great body and tremendous touch," Matta said. "He can hurt you in so many ways. Very similar to Glen Davis from LSU. He can play down on the block, or he can step out and shoot it. I think he rebounds, he can really do a lot of different things."

Matta was asked if handling Indiana's big men is the key to the game.

"Yeah, it is, but I think it's across the board," he said. "Our team defense is going to be put up to the highest challenge because they've got so many ways they can get you, starting with transition. That's probably the most noticeable difference: they're trying to score a lot faster this year than they have in the past."

One advantage for OSU is that it will be playing with four seniors, including three fifth-year seniors.

"I don't ever think you can put a price on experience," Matta said. "Having four seniors on the team, I think, is vitally important. Guys that have been through the wars before and have an understanding for the preparation and what it takes to go on the road and play."

Ohio State is fresh off a 104-69 drubbing of Penn State on Thursday. Yes, it's a quick turnaround, but the Buckeyes are hoping they can carry over some of that success into the Indiana game.

"Yeah, I think so," Matta said. "I think that our guys know that our focus is always going to be on us and how we're going to guard certain situations, or what we're going to try and do as far as a game-plan. But I think you look at (Thursday) night's game and I thought we played hard for the most part, I thought we played pretty intelligent. So, you build on that and get ready to lace ‘em up again at 4 o'clock."

The Players' View

Ohio State sophomore point guard Jamar Butler is arguably the most improved player on the team, along with sophomore forward Matt Terwilliger.

The 6-2 Butler is averaging 9.3 points, 5.1 assists and 3.0 rebounds. He is shooting a clean 50 percent from 3-point range (18 for 36) and has a 3-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

"I think it's the senior leadership leading me and helping me out," Butler said. "I'm young and I don't have a lot of games under my belt, but our seniors have done a great job."

Butler, the 2003-04 Ohio Mr. Basketball from Lima Shawnee, was known as an excellent shooter in high school. He struggled with his shot as a freshman at OSU, but it's a completely different story this year.

"Me and the coaches put a lot of work in during the summer," Butler said. "I shot about 1,000 shots a day, so I expected my shot to be better this season."

And as impressive as his shooting percentage has been, his assist-turnover ratio is what really jumps off the page.

"Well, (Matta) doesn't like me to turn the ball over, so I take pride in that and trying not to turn the ball over," Butler said. "The assists come from my teammates making big shots. That really helps when you have people that can score the ball. We have so many weapons on our team."

Butler knows it will be difficult to go into Bloomington and beat a good Indiana team.

"This is going to be a tough one on the road with Indiana being ranked 15th in the nation," he said. "It's a hostile environment over there and it's going to be loud, but we're just going to have to get ready to play."

Do the OSU players view Indiana as their big rivalry game?

"Yeah, I would say it is," Butler said. "You look at the past Ohio State-Indiana games and how close they were and all the history they have."

But Butler doesn't remember any of the classics between OSU and IU. Say, "Jimmy Jackson, Damon Bailey, double-overtime," and all you will get is a blank look.

"Not too much," Butler said. "I grew up following the (Cincinnati) Bearcats." (Butler actually verbally committed to UC early in his prep career, but later changed his mind.)

Butler and Je'Kel Foster joined OSU's starting lineup 20 games into the 2004-05 season. Since then, the Buckeyes have really taken off. They finished last year strong and have taken it to another level this year.

Foster continues to lead OSU in scoring at 15.8 per game. He's also shooting 54 percent from 3-point range. Butler was asked why he thinks his backcourt mate is playing so well.

"Je'Kel is playing well because he's a great leader," Butler said. "He works hard every day in practice. He is one of the hardest workers on the team. It's like he knows no other way."

Foster, who hails from Natchez, Miss., is starting to look more and more like an Ohio guy. He came to interviews on Friday donning a Cincinnati Reds hat.

But baseball is the furthest thing from his mind. He just wants to go on the road and steal a win at Indiana.

"Big game," Foster said. "It would be a big step for our team to get this win. We're just going to come out and try and take it like we've been playing all the other games. Just take one game at a time and play hard and play together. We're not going to do anything different; we're just going to play Ohio State basketball."

With this being the only scheduled meeting between OSU and IU this season, one might think there is extra importance being placed on the game. But Foster says that's not necessarily the case.

"We're looking at it just as another game," he said. "Just another building block for this team. We've just got to come together and find a way to get it done… They have a great team, we have a great team. So, we're just going to work (Saturday)."

Updating some statistics for the Buckeyes, senior center Terence Dials is averaging 13.8 points and 7.1 rebounds, junior guard Ron Lewis – fresh off his 26-point outburst against Penn State – is averaging 13.6 points and 4.0 rebounds, and Sullinger is averaging 10.5 points and 7.5 boards.

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