OSU's Foster Breaks Out Of Recent Slump

Ohio State senior guard Je'Kel Foster came out of a recent lull this past week, culminating in a 25-point effort where he made 7 of 8 three-point attempts in his team's win over Minnesota. The effort helped Foster earn Big Ten player of the week honors. He hopes the Buckeyes are ready for their stretch drive, which begins Thursday at Michigan (7 p.m., ESPN).

It was apparent during summer league action that Ohio State senior Je'Kel Foster had been working on his game.

But nobody could have predicted what would happen this season for the 6-2 Foster.

Foster, a native of Natchez, Miss., transferred into Ohio State last year after spending two years on the junior college circuit. He averaged 7.7 points per game and he ended up starting OSU's last 12 games of the season.

With 19 games of his senior year in the books, Foster has been one of the most pleasant surprises on the Big Ten basketball landscape. He has upped his average to an OSU-leading 14.6 points per game.

And, after going through a recent lull, Foster rebounded to earn his second Big Ten player of the week honor this past week. He averaged 21.5 points, made 75 percent (15-20) of his field goals and 77 percent (10-13) of his three-point attempts as the Buckeyes handled Florida A&M and Minnesota.

After tearing up the nets in the pre-Big Ten portion of the schedule, Foster had reached double figures in just three of OSU's first seven conference games.

But Foster enjoyed one of his biggest games in the win over Minnesota. He scored 25 points against Minnesota last Saturday, three shy of his career high. He also made 7 of 8 three-point attempts, setting a career high for treys made in a game and taking over the No. 3 spot at Ohio State for three-point field goal percentage in a game.

"Our guys did a great job of finding him," said OSU coach Thad Matta. "We did a good job of moving the basketball. For him to go 7 of 8 from three-point range is a tremendous effort."

Despite the recent slump, Foster stayed with it and played through it on hard work.

"We've been getting a lot of shots up and we just want to get back to where we were shooting at the beginning of the season," said Foster, who Foster, is shooting 55 percent from the field on the season and 50 percent from three-point range. "The basket is still 10 feet tall. I just tried to take my time and knock my shots down."

Minnesota coach Dan Monson had to tip his hat to Foster: "I haven't seen anybody go 7 for 8 on us from three before."

Against the Gophers, Foster missed his first three-point try, then made his next seven. His last one, with 1:18 left, extended OSU's lead from nine to 12 points and cemented the 67-53 win.

His .875 percentage from behind the arc against Minnesota rates third behind perfect 5-for-5 efforts of Brian Brown vs. Florida State (Nov. 23, 2000) and Rick Yudt vs. Morgan State (Dec. 22, 1994). The Buckeyes are 20-3 when Foster makes three or more treys in a game.

Speaking a week ago, Foster thought a case of tired legs was to blame for his recent lull. But with the rest the Buckeyes have had of late – they played just one Big Ten game between Jan. 21 and Feb. 4 – Foster and his teammates could be primed for the stretch run.

"We haven't gone long in practice," Matta said. "We've gone intense. I don't like to practice too long at this stage."

The Buckeyes seem to go as Foster does. In his two years at OSU, the Buckeyes are 23-2 when he scores 10 or more points. But Big Ten opposition had succeeded in holding him down of late.

"A lot of teams have been denying me the ball and making me drive to the hole," he said. "Teams are doing different things."

A Special Bond

Foster came out of Natchez High School, but his options were limited and he had to go the junior college route.

"I planned on going Division I out of high school, but I didn't have the ACT score," Foster said.

He landed at Howard Junior College in Big Spring, Texas. There, Foster averaged 15.3 points and 5.4 rebounds in leading Howard to a 30-2 record.

A year later, Foster followed his coach, Chris Jans, to Chipola Junior College in Marianna, Fla. There, he was the Florida Junior College player of the year in 2003-04, averaging 17 points, 5.5 assists and 5.1 rebounds as Chipola posted a 32-5 record and finished sixth in the NJCAA postseason tournament.

In the spring of 2004, Foster considered several schools – most notably Illinois State, St. Louis, Washington State and South Florida – before agreeing to transfer to OSU to play for then-head coach Jim O'Brien.

But it was just six weeks later when O'Brien was fired by Ohio State for alleged NCAA rules violations.

By mid-July, Matta had been hired to replace O'Brien. He went to work establishing contact with Foster to make sure that he was going to follow through and enroll at Ohio State.

"He wasn't a highly recruited kid," Matta said. "A lot of people maybe did not know about Je'Kel Foster. We had looked at him (at Xavier). We just weren't sure about him. I remind him about that, but thank goodness he stuck with Ohio State.

"But after seeing him here, there was no doubt in my mind. The first time I watched Je'Kel up close I could see he was a very good basketball player. He has a good work ethic and that helped him become one of the top guards in our conference and in the country."

Foster admitted he had some trepidation when O'Brien and his staff were sent packing.

"It made me nervous when Coach O'Brien was fired," Foster said. "I talked to Coach Matta on the phone. We had a great conversation. I felt he was about what I'm all about. We hit it off from that first conversation. Coach Matta had a lot to do with me coming here."

Foster looked at it as a chance to get in on the ground floor of something at Ohio State. He helped the Buckeyes post a 20-win season a year ago.

And he forged a strong bond with his new coach.

"A lot of it has to do with his personality and my personality," Matta said. "You look at his mind-set and his mentality and his desire to win and for us to be the best we can be. He's always smiling and always working hard. I love him to death."

Ohio State (16-3, 5-3), ranked 19th nationally, stands 1-1/2 games behind Big Ten-leading Iowa as it begins the second half of its Big Ten schedule Thursday at No. 22 Michigan (16-4, 6-3). That game, set for a 7 p.m. start, will be televised by ESPN.

"The Big Ten standings are real close," Foster noted. "We're coming down the stretch. We just need to keep winning and increase our chances of doing something special this year.

"This team is a different team from last year. We're on a different kind of mission. We're out for each other and just trying to take care of each other."

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