UNC Asheville-Ohio St. Preview
While Ohio State's offense continues to run through its talented trio of juniors, steady production from its lone senior could make coach Thad Matta's team all the more formidable.
Evan Ravenel looks to build on arguably his best effort of the season Saturday as the No. 7 Buckeyes host UNC Asheville.
Leading the way for Ohio State (7-1) are juniors Deshaun Thomas, Lenzelle Smith Jr. and point guard Aaron Craft, who've all picked up the pace following last season's Final Four run. Thomas ranks first in the Big Ten with 20.8 points per game while Smith and Craft are averaging career highs of 10.6 and 9.6, respectively. Sophomore LaQuinton Ross has also come out strong with 10.6 points per contest after seeing limited action in 2011-12.
While Thomas scored 21 of his 22 points in the first half during Wednesday's 85-45 rout of Savannah State, Craft went scoreless for the first time since his freshman season. Smith also had a quiet night with eight points but Ravenel provided a spark, scoring 11 to go along with a career-best nine rebounds in just 17 minutes.
"That's ultimately what you relay in terms of being a senior - he assesses the situation and says, 'What do I have to do in order to help this basketball team?'" Matta said. "The more he understands that mode, the better this basketball team will be."
Ohio State outrebounded the Tigers 48-21 and held them to 37.0 percent shooting, extending their home winning streak against non-conference opponents to 37.
"As crazy as it sounds, we're still a relatively young basketball team. We have one freshman and one senior," Matta said. "The thing that we have been harping on these guys the most is we have to get better. Don't go back to (yesterday). Hopefully these things are in order and we can continue to progress forward. We've played with energy and enthusiasm. Our intensity level has been pretty good."
The Buckeyes, whose only loss came 73-68 at No. 2 Duke on Nov. 28, have another big matchup against No. 9 Kansas looming next weekend. Ohio State, though, first needs to avoid letdowns against UNC Asheville (3-6) and Winthrop on Tuesday.
"Teams come in here and don't take us lightly," Thomas said. "Every game we play hard. It's going to be the same way when we play Kansas and it starts in practice. We need to play with passion."
The Buckeyes have taken all four previous matchups against the Bulldogs, most recently winning 96-49 on Dec. 21, 2010.
"We've got a tremendous challenge on our hands," UNC Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach told the school's official website. "They're impressive in all areas of the game.
"Our guys are going to have to be ready to play hard for 40 minutes. ... Hopefully, this is a game that no matter what happens makes us a better basketball team as the year goes on."
Despite their mediocre record, the Bulldogs nearly upset then-No. 16 North Carolina State on Nov. 23, falling 82-80 in their only matchup with a ranked team this season.
That defeat was one of six straight suffered by UNC Asheville before the team bounced back with back-to-back wins, beating NAIA foe Montreat 85-51 last Saturday and Division II Lenoir-Rhyne 66-55 on Wednesday.
Senior Jeremy Atkinson is averaging team highs of 18.1 points and 7.9 rebounds for the Bulldogs, who are 0-13 versus Big Ten teams.