Morehead St.-Ohio St. Preview
Ohio State coach Thad Matta is getting excited by the consistent improvement of his four talented freshmen.
As the No. 12 Buckeyes look to continue their non-conference home dominance over unranked teams, that foursome could be in for another strong performance Saturday versus Morehead State.
Ohio State (7-1) typically starts three seniors, but its overall success could depend on the collective play of redshirt freshman Kam Williams along with first-year players D'Angelo Russell, Jae'Sean Tate and Keita Bates-Diop.
The versatile Russell averages a team-leading 18.0 points plus 5.3 assists and 4.9 rebounds as the Buckeyes' only freshman starter. Williams (9.4 points per game), Tate (5.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg) and Bates-Diop (4.4 ppg) continue to provide solid minutes off the bench.
"I don't even know what these guys are any more in terms of their (grade level)," Matta said. "I like that group. I love how they practice. They keep making the right strides. They keep learning."
Williams, who sat out last season while recovering from mononucleosis, scored a team-high 23 of Ohio State's 51 bench points on 8-of-10 shooting in 21 minutes of Wednesday's 97-43 rout of High Point.
"Being a scorer or shooter, this year I just wanted to come in and play my role - and that's for me to make shots," said Williams, who is shooting 57.1 percent, including 14 of 28 from 3-point range.
"Just bring energy whenever I come into the game," he added. "If everybody on our team does their job and brings energy, we're going to be a hell of a basketball team."
Russell had 18 points with nine boards, five assists and two steals. Tate scored 12 and Bates-Diop added nine with five rebounds for the Buckeyes, who hit 62.5 percent from the field and a season-best 8 of 13 from beyond the arc.
They rank fourth nationally in field-goal shooting at 53.0 percent.
"We're having fun out there," said Tate, who had totaled 13 points in the previous four contests. "This is a dream for us (freshmen). For all of us to play in AAU, then to play at this level. We're always competing."
The Buckeyes have rebounded nicely from a 64-55 loss at then-No. 5 Louisville on Dec. 2 by beating Colgate and High Point by a combined 74 points.
"I feel like this team is getting better every single day in practice," Tate said. "We had a great week of competing. When we do that, it shows in the game. We came out (Wednesday) and handled our business."
Ohio State is expected to handle things Saturday as it tries for a 56th straight home victory over an unranked, non-conference opponent. The Buckeyes have won every game of that streak by double digits, including a 64-45 victory over Morehead State on Nov. 23, 2010.
The Buckeyes lead the all-time series 3-0 against the Eagles (4-7), who enter this matchup having lost three straight.
Morehead State has also dropped three in a row to Top 25 teams since beating Louisville in the second round of the 2011 NCAA tournament. The Eagles, though, were competitive in all three defeats, losing by an average of 9.0 points.
Guard Angelo Warner averages a team-leading 16.1 points on 50.0 percent shooting.