Let the Games Begin
Buckeyes Head to Duke for First True Test
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State coach Thad Matta would sure like to have Jared Sullinger down in the post for his team’s trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium today.
Photo by Jim Davidson
With him, the Buckeyes blistered Mike Krzyzewski’s backside during a 22-point victory in Columbus last season. Without him, Matta’s 2012 bunch will have to have to get creative in matching up with Krzyzewski’s All-American big man, Mason Plumlee.
“It's hard to say, 'Okay, he's going to do this when he catches it,’” Matta said Tuesday.
“He's really, really good. You try to get a read on his tendencies, and just he's so big, he's so athletic. He scores in plethora of ways.”
Plumlee scored 16 points and grabbed eight rebounds in last year’s meeting, but he was matched by Sullinger, who went for 21 and eight with a sore back. Now, with Sullinger playing in Boston with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, it’s Plumlee who many have pegged as a leading candidate for National Player of the Year.
The 6-10 senior is averaging 19.7 points, 10 boards and nearly two blocks per game this season, and he's actually making his free throws – he’s shooting 80 percent from the stripe this year after shooting below 55 percent in each of his first three seasons at Duke.
“It'll be a great test for this team,” shooting guard Lenzelle Smith, Jr. said.
“Not only just playing on the road and in that type of environment, but we're playing against Duke. They're a pretty good team and I'm looking forward to it.”
The No. 2-ranked Buckeyes sparked their season with an 85-63 win over the fourth-ranked Blue Devils last November. Along with 21 from Sullinger, Matta got 20 from William Buford, 18 from Deshaun Thomas and 17 from point guard Aaron Craft, who also dished out eight assists in the win.
It was about as sound a butt-kicking as Ohio State has handed out to a major program like Duke in school history, but it won’t be easy to recreate a second time around.
“They missed some really, really easy shots to miss the game, and it kind of ignited us,” Matta said this week.
“We've had some big wins, and that's definitely one that would rank up there.”
Matta still insists the upset of No. 1-ranked Illinois his first year at Ohio State was the biggest game he’s coached at home since taking over the program back in 2004. The best road environment he’s been in was that game at North Carolina without Greg Oden back in 2006, but the Buckeyes know they are entering hostile territory in one of the most hallowed arenas in all of basketball, at any level.
“I'm always excited to play on the road,” Smith said Tuesday.
“The road games help us the most towards the end of the season. We've heard about the Cameron Crazies and the small arena having a different feel to it. We'll get a chance to see tomorrow. We're excited.”
While a number of Matta’s players have never played in a road environment quite like Cameron Indoor, most of these guys got a chance to experience that type of environment at “Phog” Allen Fieldhouse last December.
The Buckeyes lost that game at Kansas without Sullinger, but they also have some guys with a little better understanding of what to expect Wednesday night in Durham. Senior Evan Ravenel played at Cameron Indoor when he was at Boston College, and assistant coach Dave Dickerson was there a number of times as an assistant to Gary Williams at the University of Maryland.
Then there is Ohio State’s video coordinator, who might know a thing or two about Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils.
“I can’t wait to see what they yell at GP,” Craft said of the notorious ‘Cameron Crazies.’
GP would be none other than Greg Paulus, the former Duke point guard who started for three years under Krzyzewski. Matta joked that his video coordinator had the floor all mapped out at Cameron Indoor, but in reality, the Buckeyes are still doing a lot of searching as they head into their first big game of the season.
“We need to solidify ourselves as a basketball team, solidify our identity and understand as crazy as it's going to be down there,” Craft said, as if serving as a reminder to Smith, who was seated next to him at the podium.
“We're going to play in some crazy atmospheres this year, but it is still a basketball game. It's going to come down to execution and what we have practiced up to this point. Hopefully we can have enough mental toughness to do it.”
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