Taking It To The Road

There are more than the usual pressures that come with a non-conference game in play for tonight's game between Ohio State and Cleveland State. Playing on the road within the Buckeye State makes for a great risk-reward situation for players such as David Lighty, who is returning to play in front of a hometown crowd.

As Ohio State head coach Thad Matta pointed out Monday afternoon, every time his team steps on the court there is a chance for a major slip-up.

However, Tuesday night's game offers a little bit more in that department should the Buckeyes falter. Playing a de facto road game against Cleveland State at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, OSU will be doing something not seldom seen within the confines of the program.

The Buckeyes will be taking on an in-state team away from the friendly confines of Columbus for the first time since the 1994-95 season, when they faced CSU at what was then called Gund Arena. That game was a 75-73 loss at the hand of the Vikings.

Fresh off a pasting of visiting Presbyterian College on Dec. 15, the Buckeyes will find themselves in a somewhat familiar position when they take on CSU. As part of the NIT Season Tip-Off earlier this season, OSU faced a ranked Syracuse foe in New York City – a de facto home game for the Orange.

This time, the game is a little more than a stone's throw away from where the Vikings normally suit up to play. So while the game is at a neutral arena, the Buckeyes are expecting to find themselves in a hostile environment.

"For me, it's a road game," sophomore swingman David Lighty said. "They're in Cleveland and it's Cleveland State. It's kind of like the Syracuse game we played in New York. Everybody was rooting for Syracuse. "

Aside from playing an in-state team away from Value City Arena, the Buckeyes will have an added level of pressure placed on this game from outside sources. Come March, out-of-conference games against mid-major teams such as CSU are viewed as major reasons why a team should – or should not – make the NCAA Tournament.

A win would be a solid reason mark that would buoy OSU's chances should they finish the year as a bubble team, but a loss could help to keep them out of the tournament altogether.

That was not something head coach Thad Matta said he had in mind when the game was scheduled, however.

"I don't think about March until March," he said. "When we scheduled this game, I thought we might have a couple extra guys on our team. If you knew you were going to have a super-young team maybe you don't want to leave (home), but I think nowadays name me a team that goes into a game and says, ‘I know we're going to win this game.' "

The game has all the makings of being a tough environment for the Buckeyes to be successful. CSU has five returnees from last season's team and sits with a 7-3 record, including an overtime victory on a neutral court against Florida State on Nov. 17.

Lighty hails from Cleveland, while freshman forward Dallas Lauderdale is a product of nearby Solon. Lighty said he has secured around 20 tickets for friends and family members and is still looking for three more.

In addition, both have said that friends from back home have been talking up the importance of the game, warning that the Buckeyes had better "bring their ‘A' game."

Lauderdale, who said he is friends with nearly every player on CSU's roster, said this could be a program-defining win for the Vikings.

"I have a friend that was telling me they're hyping it up in Cleveland and this is one of the biggest games Cleveland State has ever played," he said. "We're all friends. It's just going to be a good, competitive game."

The Buckeyes enter the game on a modest two-game winning streak that has snapped a two-game losing streak. Despite all the outside distractions surrounding the game, the Buckeyes said they realize they have to simply focus on playing their best basketball.

That might seem easier following a game against Presbyterian College where OSU shot 71.4 percent from the floor against the Blue Hose.

"It was just good to score a lot of points and put some points on the board," Lighty said. "It's about putting two halves together and being consistent, going out and playing 40 minutes. I think we did that a little bit in that game."

The most rewarding part of the offensive outburst, Lauderdale and Matta said, was that it reflected how practice had been going up until that point. After another week of what they felt was aggressive practice, the Buckeyes are hoping Tuesday night's game is a reflection of that observation.

"As a team, we're trying to keep things in perspective," Lauderdale said. "We'll take it as another game – we have to go out and get it done."

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