N. Dakota St.-Ohio St. Preview
Ohio State has essentially gone untested during its impressive start, winning all nine games by double digits and barely breaking a sweat so far with what looked like an innocuous early December slate.
Just don’t expect Thad Matta’s team to be overconfident heading into its next game.
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North Dakota State’s surprise victory at Notre Dame certainly figures to have captured the third-ranked Buckeyes’ attention as they host the Bison on Saturday night as part of the Gotham Classic.
Ohio State’s schedule hasn’t been particularly challenging, as it didn’t travel for any holiday tournaments and has only played one game outside Columbus.
The Buckeyes have shot a combined 56.5 percent in winning their four post-Thanksgiving games by an average of 26.8 points, with Wednesday’s 86-48 rout of Bryant their latest easy victory.
Lenzelle Smith Jr. led the way with 19 points and eight rebounds in 22 minutes, giving him 78 points in the last five games despite just 43 field-goal attempts.
“I think Lenzelle has been tremendous – nobody’s asked me about him this year,” Matta said. “But I think he’s playing at a very, very high level of being a complete basketball player.”
Smith leads Ohio State with 12.9 points per game, among six players averaging at least eight. Each of those Buckeyes has led the team in scoring in at least one of the first nine games.
“They’re so talented. That’s what’s hard about playing them,” Bryant coach Tim O’Shea said. “Who do you really want to leave open? They’re just an elite team; a very, very, very elite team.”
The win over the Bulldogs was the Buckeyes’ first game in the Gotham Classic, a round-robin tournament that also features Delaware, North Dakota State and Notre Dame, and culminates at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 21.
The Bison (7-3) are the lone team of the five that won’t get to play at MSG, but they looked good on a pretty big stage Wednesday night. Four days after beating Bryant 66-62, North Dakota State went into South Bend and stunned Notre Dame 73-69.
That was the program’s second bit of good news that day. Earlier Wednesday, the Bisons’ on-campus arena was approved for a $41 million renovation.
“When you hear that we’re finally going to have a $40 million new arena and you beat an ACC team on the road in the same day, it ranks right up there with some of the best moments in this program’s history,” coach Saul Phillips said.
Senior forward Marshall Bjorklund led the way with a season-high 26 points on 11-of-14 shooting before fouling out. North Dakota State had 40 points in the paint to the Irish’s 22.
“Throughout the whole season, we tried to get it in inside as much as possible,” said Bjorklund, the NCAA’s active career leader in field-goal percentage (66.9). “We had guys in foul trouble so it wasn’t as much as an option. We’re always looking inside and we think that’s a good option for us.”
The Bison have a big starting backcourt with 6-foot-4 Kory Brown and 6-7 Taylor Braun, who figures to have an interesting matchup with Ohio State star point guard Aaron Craft as these programs meet for the first time.
Braun and Craft are two of only 12 players in the nation to average at least 10.0 points, 4.0 assists, 3.0 rebounds, 2.0 steals and fewer than three turnovers.