OSU Welcomes MSU To Sold Out Schott

Michigan State has been the Big Ten's bully over the last decade. Ohio State is on the rise and it knows a win over the Spartans would be big for the program. The Buckeyes and Spartans will collide in Columbus on Sunday. We have a game preview, including comments from OSU's Thad Matta, Matt Sylvester and Je'Kel Foster

A sold out crowd will be on hand Sunday when Ohio State hosts Michigan State in a Big Ten showdown Sunday (4:30 p.m., CBS national telecast).

It will mark just the second sell out at Value City Arena during OSU coach Thad Matta's brief tenure. Last season's Illinois game also drew a packed house.

The 14th-ranked Spartans (13-4, 1-2 Big Ten) advanced to the Final Four last season, for the fourth time in the last seven years. They played a tough non-conference schedule this season and they've also dropped two Big Ten games thus far: at Illinois and at Wisconsin.

They are led by the big three of Maurice Ager (6-5, Sr.), Paul Davis (6-11, Sr.) and Shannon Brown (6-4, Jr.). Ager averages 20.9 points per game, Davis averages 18.5 points and 9.9 rebounds, and Brown averages 17.8 points.

"I think Michigan State has become a household name and one of the premier teams in the country," Matta said. "Once again they have a terrific basketball team, they've got great experience, they've got great depth again. Anytime you've got three seniors that have played in a Final Four, you know it's a great basketball team and a tremendous challenge for our guys."

Michigan State has set the standard in the Big Ten recently. Between conference championships and trips to the Final Four, it has been the marquee team in the league.

"No question about that," Matta said. "What they've been able to do over the years in building that program, I think it has set the bar for what hopefully we can do here at Ohio State."

Matta was told that Michigan State might be a hungry team considering it has a losing record in the Big Ten up to this point.

"Well, and I think we're hungry at 2-1," he said. "It's conference play and you can look at records, but I know this: They've played two road games, we've played two road games, and we have to go out and protect our home court.

"Honestly, I think the two road games they've played are two of the best teams in the Big Ten and two of the better team in the country."

And while the Spartans have a myriad of weapons, Ager is the one that really gets them going.

"Yeah, he can," Matta said. "He's obviously extremely talented and is a terrific player. But Brown, Davis and (point guard Drew) Neitzel does a tremendous job and they've got so many guys off the bench. But I think Ager seems to be the guy that can put up the big numbers."

Matta says there are a lot of traits that stand out about MSU.

"Well, I think their size, their athleticism, their speed," he said. "They execute their offense from transition into their set plays. Defensively, they play really hard, and they're a very good rebounding team once again. That's a Michigan State trademark."

The No. 19 Buckeyes (12-1, 2-1) continue to be one of the surprise teams of college basketball this season. Most OSU fans expected a good season, but on a national scale, few predicted that the Buckeyes would be ranked and have only one loss up to this point.

A huge conference win could prove that OSU has arrived. And playing in front of a packed house can only help.

"I hope so," Matta said. "I think that is what I would hope for. I think our fans have been tremendous to us so far this year. And make no mistake about it, we're going to need all 19,200 people to help us pull this off."

The Buckeyes are led by guard Je'Kel Foster (6-3, Sr.) and center Terence Dials (6-9, Sr.). Foster averages 15.2 points per game, and Dials averages 14.6 points and 7.0 rebounds.

Foster, one of four captains, has clearly established himself as the team's leader.

"Well, I think he's brought a level of toughness," Matta said. "I think he's brought an attitude. I think he's brought leadership, not only vocally, but most importantly through example. He made some plays over there (Purdue) the other night and I told the team I wanted to give him the game ball, because he's going to lay it all on the line to help his teammates and I think that becomes contagious for them."

One of the keys for OSU against Michigan State will be keeping Dials out of foul trouble. He is one of the top players in the Big Ten, but he has a tendency to collect cheap fouls, especially in big games.

"Yeah, obviously we're a much better basketball team when Terence is on the floor and is playing well," Matta said. "It helps our size, it gives us another threat in there. So yeah, we hope to keep Terence out there as long as we can."

Last year, in their only meeting of the season, Michigan State defeated OSU, 83-69, in East Lansing. Led by Dials, the Buckeyes led for much of the first half, but couldn't hang with the Spartans in the second half.

"Well, I think it's 40 minutes," Matta said. "They're too good to have a letdown. More and more I watch college basketball and it's definitely a game of runs. Make no mistake about it, I know they're going to put points on the board.

"In that game (last year), we literally ran out of gas. They were playing 11, we were playing seven. The last eight minutes of the game, we just couldn't go any more."

But one of the reasons that OSU is an improved team this year is its bench. Ron Lewis (6-4, Jr.) is one of the top sixth men in the country and is averaging 13.2 points. And there are other players that Matta is comfortable using off the pine.

"I think Ivan (Harris) is playing much better and that's been a huge lift for us," Matta said. "And you bring a guy like Ron off the bench, who is a double-figure scorer, a good defender – when he wants to. That's kind of been the difference for us this year is more depth. What Matt Terwilliger has been able to bring with just some size I think has been a tremendous boost for our team."

The Players' View

Ohio State senior forward Matt Sylvester knows that Michigan State will be a hungry team on Sunday. Head coach Tom Izzo is going to do everything he can to prevent a 1-3 start in league play.

"Yeah, they also have to be feeling an extreme sense of urgency right now, as we are," Sylvester said. "They have a tough stretch, as do we. It's just blowing up to be a pretty intense game, I think."

Michigan State's Final Four run last year was impressive and at least four of its players this year (Ager, Davis, Brown, Neitzel) played big roles on that team.

"Yeah, I think that's an edge that they have on us right now is they have a lot of experience going deep last year and having a lot of those guys back," Sylvester said. "We've been in big games too, and (Matta) has certainly been in a lot of big games too. It's just going to be a track meet and we're really looking forward to it.

"These guys have been the team to beat in the Big Ten for a while now. We are excited to get them at our place. They've lost a few games this year. They'll be ready to play when they come in here. We'll be ready, too. It's going to be a track meet."

Sylvester thinks the Buckeyes have plenty of weapons to keep up with the Spartans.

"I think we are an exciting team," he said. "We go up and down. We have some good shooters. We go inside to Terence, who is one of the best centers in the league. I think we can do a lot of stuff offensively. We can still do some things defensively and with rebounding. I think we're an exciting team to watch and that's why there is some buzz around Columbus right now."

And playing in front of 19,200 rabid Buckeye fans will give OSU's players even more motivation.

"That always helps," Sylvester said. "The louder it is in there, the easier it is to play. At least that's how I feel. The louder it is in the building, the less you think about fatigue and you can go even above what you think you can.

"Sometimes it gets so loud, you forget about everything. You're just out there playing and you just cut it loose."

Foster is also expecting the crowd to make a difference.

"We have great fans and I'm sure the place will be packed," he said. "They've done a great job of supporting us this year. It definitely motivates the players. When you see a lot of fans there cheering for you, it makes you want to play harder and not let them down."

Foster says he enjoys the pressure than comes along with big games.

"When I was little I dreamed of playing in games like this against Michigan State," he said. "I'm very motivated for this game. We're just going to go out and play Ohio State basketball."


* Ohio State is 23-6 in sold-out games at Value City Arena, which includes a 19-4 record vs. Big Ten opponents and a 9-0 record vs. ranked conference foes in sold-out games.

* Jim Tressel, Ohio State head football coach, and representatives of the Ohio State football team, will present athletic director Gene Smith with the 2005 Fiesta Bowl Trophy during halftime of the Ohio State vs. Michigan State game. The Fiesta Bowl Trophy will be on display during both the men's and women's basketball games Sunday outside the Arena Shop, located on the entry level of Value City Arena on the east side of the facility. Fans will have the opportunity to take photographs with the trophy during both games.

* The Ohio State women's basketball team takes on Michigan at noon at VCA. Separate tickets will be needed to attend the basketball games. The building will be cleared after the women's game. Doors will open for the men's game at 3 p.m.

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