OSU Focused On Task At Hand

Ohio State takes to the road tonight for a showdown with No. 8/12 Michigan State in a nationally televised game on ESPN. The Buckeyes could be thinking about a lot of things headed into the game, but head coach Thad Matta said his focus is solely on improving his team on a game-by-game basis.

When Ohio State took to the court Sunday for practice, the Buckeyes went hard – harder than normal for this time of year.

That might be expected for a team that had ascended into the top 15 in the national rankings before dropping two of three and falling out of the top 25 altogether. But this intense practice was not necessarily a punishment for disappointing play in the most recent loss – a Jan. 3 68-59 road defeat to Minnesota – as much as a further reflection of the motto frequently espoused by head coach Thad Matta.

That motto is to keep focused on the task at hand without looking too far ahead – or behind. In this case, then, Sunday's practice was more about being adequately prepared for Tuesday's contest with No. 8/12 Michigan State (7 p.m., ESPN) than it was about anything else.

"It was an intense practice," OSU center Dallas Lauderdale said. "We got after it. A lot of up and down because we know Michigan State likes to push the ball a lot. We knew we had to get back in transition and that's what we worked on in practice (Sunday)."

The Buckeyes are going to need to hold onto that focus on the Spartans if they hope to score an upset. The Breslin Center has not been kind to OSU, where it is 15-35 overall but 2-1 in its last three contests.

But with all that has gone on within the Buckeye program already this season, it would be easy to not be fully focused on the task at hand. Plenty has been made about the loss of forward David Lighty until the second half of the season due to injury and the abrupt departure of guard Anthony Crater as well as decisive losses to Minnesota and West Virginia, but Matta said that he has not been fazed by those situations.

Instead, the focus remains as always on the task at hand.

"I think you look at what lies ahead for this team and knowing the challenges that are there, that's why I honestly think what we've got to do is focus in on us getting a little better with what we're doing," he said. "(We've got to) keep the focus on us just being more consistent, being able to withstand teams' runs and that sort of thing. If we do that sort of thing, the prize is for us to look at everything as a one-game game."

Although it is not how the Buckeyes will approach it, this game with the Spartans could be a crucial one for the season. Road wins are always at a premium within the Big Ten, and OSU is 1-1 in conference play. Suffering a second league loss so early in the season could hinder what the Buckeyes are hoping to accomplish later in the year.

Lauderdale said OSU is hoping to bring the fight to the Spartans from the early going.

"In college, whoever throws the first punch is who is going to dictate the game," he said. "I think Michigan State is going to come out and try to throw some punches, but if we throw some punches too it'll be a good fight."

The Buckeyes will enlist some new help in the fight this time, as junior college transfer Nikola Kecman will enter the lineup for the first time this season. After playing overseas in his home country of Serbia, Kecman was suspended for the first 12 games of the season after it was determined that some of the players on his Serbian team were being paid to play.

A likely fit at the power forward position, Kecman brings an ability to shoot the ball to the table above all other things. He suited up for Eastern Arizona last season.

"The thing that was ironic as we talked to him, the big difference between being in Serbia and being here, he said in junior college in Arizona was just the physicality of it," Matta said. "I said, ‘You want to see physical play, wait till we get up there (to MSU).' It's going to take him some time."

Matta said he had not decided how much he will use Kecman against the Spartans, adding that he will evaluate the situation as it progresses.

His addition to the rotation gives the Buckeyes four available post players. That rotation that also includes B.J. Mullens and Kyle Madsen might allow Matta to move Evan Turner back to his natural spot on the wing after shifting to power forward in Lighty's absence.

"I think that he's a great shooter," Madsen said of Kecman. "I think he adds that to our team. There's definitely some opportunity to move Evan back to where he had been used to playing. We need Evan on the court wherever he can be."

First punches, new arrivals and lineup changes aside, this game is an important one for Buckeyes. But as Matta continuously reminds them, it is only important until it is over. At that point, the next game becomes the most important game of the year.

"I think that's our thing: as coaches we've got to get them to learn form the wins and losses and move on," Matta said. "I haven't seen a guy say, ‘Poor us' or anything like that. It's been pretty focused on what we're trying to do."

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