N.C.-Asheville-Ohio St. Preview
Ohio State was expected to receive one of its biggest tests in weeks its last time out, but ended up cruising to another easy win.
Very little suggests North Carolina-Asheville will deliver more of a challenge.
The second-ranked Buckeyes look to build on another convincing victory Tuesday night when they host the overmatched Bulldogs, who have lost all 38 games against ranked opponents over the past 14 years.
After beating up on the likes of IUPUI, Western Carolina and Florida Gulf Coast to open this month, Ohio State (10-0) was anticipating a tougher time Saturday against South Carolina, whose only loss entering play came against then-No. 2 Michigan State.
The Buckeyes made quick work of the Gamecocks, however, racing out to a 21-point halftime lead en route to a 79-57 victory.
Led by star freshman Jared Sullinger, Ohio State had no trouble controlling the paint against a South Carolina team that entered sixth in the nation in rebounding, winning the battle of the boards 44-35. Sullinger finished with a career-high 19 rebounds - including a Buckeyes freshman-record 14 on the defensive end - to go with 30 points.
William Buford added 12 points and Jon Diebler scored 11 for Ohio State, 10-0 for the first time since the 2005-06 team opened with 11 victories.
"We've been excited since summertime," senior forward Dallas Lauderdale said. "We've been excited what we've been able to do with competitive open gyms and competitive practices. When we're able to put our talents together we have a pretty special team.''
Sullinger has been instrumental to the impressive start, averaging 18.5 points and 9.6 rebounds. The 6-foot-9 forward has won the Big Ten player of the week award twice and has been named the top freshman in the conference five out of six weeks.
"I key in on rebounding," Sullinger said. "If I'm not rebounding then I'm not playing hard."
He'll now turn his attention to dominating the glass against UNC-Asheville, which has been outrebounded by an average of 18.5 in losing its two games to ranked opponents this season.
The Bulldogs (5-5) did a good job on the glass Thursday, holding a 44-24 advantage, but that came in a 90-72 win over Division II King. Three of UNC Asheville's victories have come against non-Division I schools.
"I thought we played with some poise, attacked their pressure defense pretty well and did a great job on the boards," coach Eddie Biedenbach told the school's official website.
The Bulldogs, led by Matt Dickey and his 16.7 scoring average, have lost to then-No. 25 North Carolina and No. 16 Georgetown this season, adding to their futility against ranked opponents. Avoiding a 39th straight loss to a Top 25 school since the start of 1996-97 seems unlikely, considering UNC Asheville has been outscored by an average of 52.5 points in its last two games against top 5 opponents.
The Buckeyes were ranked 15th in the last meeting with the Bulldogs on Dec. 22, 2008, and won 83-59 behind Buford's 16 points and seven rebounds and Lauderdale's 11 points and seven boards. Ohio State has taken all three meetings in the series by an average of 26.3 points.
Although a loss this time seems doubtful, the Buckeyes will guard against an upset.
"We have to stay humble," Ohio State senior guard David Lighty said. "It's not how you start (the season), it's how you finish. The pieces we have put together now are working; we just have to continue to get better."