OSU Aims To End Stretch On High Note

Following his team's road loss to Butler, Ohio State head coach Thad Matta charged his players with taking care of business in a three-game home stretch against unranked competition. With two wins in the bag, the Buckeyes will look to close out a third consecutive victory tonight against Cleveland State.

Publicly, Thad Matta is simply happy with the bottom line from his team's last two games.

Privately, the Ohio State head coach has to have some misgivings. After losing primary threat Evan Turner and then a road game against Butler in consecutive games, the Buckeyes turned their focus to a stretch of three winnable games before beginning Big Ten play. OSU has gone 2-0 in those games, but wins against Presbyterian and Delaware State have not come without cause for concern.

In the Dec. 16 victory against Presbyterian, the Buckeyes were en route to their fourth 100-point effort of the season when the opponent's switch from zone to man-to-man defense stymied their efforts and resulted in the home team being outscored in the second half.

A snoozefest ensued three days later against a Delaware State team focused on taking the air out of the basketball, and the Buckeyes scored a season-low 60 points in the victory. After the game, Matta apologized to reporters for what took place on the court.

Now with tonight's game against Cleveland State (8:36 p.m., Big Ten Network) serving as the final tune-up before conference play, Matta said he is pleased to be sitting at 9-2 overall.

"The fact that we're sitting 2-0 in it is huge," he said. "The progress we're making has been good. I like the fact that every game, even in practice certain guys are doing more and more which is hopefully a sign of this basketball team getting better. It's still a little bit different without (Turner) out there but guys have done a pretty good job with what they're supposed to do."

Junior forward David Lighty said the players are not completely satisfied with their play in the past two games.

"There's always room for improvement," he said. "There's a lot of little things. I don't think we're doing a horrible job with (taking care of the ball) but it could be better. Just screening, executing, timing on plays, waiting for someone to set the screen for you and setting up the person for the screen and just basically communicating on defense and rotations."

Following Turner's injury, the Buckeyes had to adjust to playing at a different pace. As a result, timing was off during the initial going.

Lighty said the team's recent struggles with timing and execution no longer have to do with the absence of Turner and instead are the result of playing different teams with different defensive styles.

"It's up to us to go out there and know when we have to come off a screen hard or bump a screen and things like that," the junior said.

One player figuring that out during this stretch is sophomore guard William Buford. After enduring the first protracted shooting slump of his collegiate career, the Toledo native has scored in double digits in each of the last four games – his longest such streak of the season.

Perhaps more importantly has been his assist total: Buford has dished out 24 assists and committed nine turnovers during that same stretch.

"I think Will's confidence is sky-high right now and that's good to see," junior guard Jon Diebler said. "Obviously he went through his struggles early on but just to see how he's recovered from that and the way he's been playing both offensively and defensively, it's been awesome because he's been helping us a lot."

Now the task at hand is dealing with a Cleveland State team that pushed No. 6 West Virginia to the wire Dec. 19 before dropping an 80-78 decision. The Vikings enter the contest 4-8 overall and losers of seven of their last eight.

The Buckeyes know to expect a more aggressive attack than the one they saw Saturday from Delaware State.

"We know that Cleveland State isn't going to play keep-away," junior center Dallas Lauderdale said. "We know that for a fact so we're going to have to bring the intensity. Cleveland State is a team that just went eye for eye with West Virginia. We know it's not going to be easy, so we're going to have to bring our ‘A' games."


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