Buckeyes Prepping For 'Big' Challenge

Ohio State's starting lineup is often described as being long but seldom characterized as being big. In today's contest against a Georgia Tech team playing some of its best basketball of the season, the Buckeyes and junior center Dallas Lauderdale will have to be on guard in the paint.

MILWAUKEE – Ohio State faces a big test Sunday when it faces Georgia Tech. Or to put it more accurately, two or three of them.

The Buckeyes will be tasked with stopping a Yellow Jacket frontcourt that starts two players 6-9 or taller. It will not be the first time Thad Matta's squad has had a similar matchup this season, but there is something different this time around.

"I think that we've gone against size," the OSU coach said. "I don't know if we've gone against size and athleticism like this."

The second-seeded Buckeyes will tip against a 10th-seeded Georgia Tech team playing some of its best basketball of the season. The Yellow Jackets meandered through the regular season and compiled a 22-12 record while finishing seventh in the ACC with a sub-.500 ledger.

But in a 64-59 first-round victory against Oklahoma State, Georgia Tech displayed plenty of firepower. Junior forward Gani Lawal finished with 14 points while freshman Derrick Favors added 12. In a deep lineup that had seven players tally at least six points, those were the two to reach double figures.

With Favors measuring in at 6-10 and Lawal listed at 6-9, the Yellow Jackets boast two big men taller than OSU starting center Dallas Lauderdale. The junior is listed at 6-8.

The plan for Georgia Tech is to open up by trying to pound the ball inside.

"We always play inside-out no matter what team it is," senior swingman D'Andre Bell said. "That's what we've done inconsistently throughout the whole season, which got us to where we are now. I think the whole team is buying in now."

Lauderdale said he is prepared for the challenge.

"It will be very important (for me to play well), just like in every game," he said. "In (Friday's) game it was crucial. Hopefully I'll stay out of foul trouble. I've just got to play smart and use my mind."

Matta said the Yellow Jackets remind him of Florida State, a team the Buckeyes defeated as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. In that contest, the Seminoles were led by center Solomon Alabi and his 21 points.

The responsibility for stopping Georgia Tech's post game will not fall exclusively upon Lauderdale. Junior forward David Lighty is the starting power forward, and his 6-5 frame will be matched up against someone taller in the post.

Not that he said he minds that fact.

"It's nothing new for us," he said. "It's just keep doing what we've been doing. I've been up against 6-9, 6-10 pretty much my whole career. It's just about doing it again."

Behind those two, however, is just senior Kyle Madsen. The Buckeyes do not rotate more than seven players in a given game and are not blessed with depth in the post.

"We don't really have depth, so if someone gets in foul trouble we're a different team," Lauderdale said. "I think a lot of teams have tried to pound it inside."

Georgia Tech head coach Paul Hewitt said his post players have been effective this season because they have by and large eliminated turnovers. Against the Cowboys, however, Favors had a team-high five giveaways.

That goes back to Bell's point: the Yellow Jackets have been a spotty team this season. Until going on a run through the ACC tournament that ended with a loss to Duke in the title game, Georgia Tech had lost five of seven games and was playing its way onto the wrong side of the bubble.

Now, however, the sense from the Yellow Jackets is that they are playing some of their best basketball of the season.

"I think we lost 12 games because we lost focus of what we do and how we can play," Favors said. "I think now we're playing the way that we're supposed to play. I think we've got better team chemistry and we know what each other can do and how we play. It's grown as the season went on."

In addition, Bell cited Favors' improved play as a reason for the team's recent success. Favors opened the season by scoring in double figures for the first nine games but saw his scoring dip as conference play opened. He enters the OSU game averaging 16.2 points in his last 10 games and 12.5 for the season.

Seated in his team's locker room at the Bradley Center, Favors said the future is bright for the Yellow Jackets if they continue down the same path they have recently tread.

"We can go all the way to the national championship with us playing physical like that," he said. "(Friday) did feel a little bit different. It's the NCAA Tournament. You've got to come out and play as hard as you can."

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