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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Before packing their bags and heading for Durham, N.C., Thad Matta and members of the Ohio State basketball team met with the media to preview the Buckeyes' Wednesday night tip-off with Duke. With the Blue Devils coming in at No. 2 in the latest Associated Press Top-25 poll, and OSU just two spots behind at No. 4, the premiere matchup in the annual ACC-Big Ten Challenge could have big implications in the polls for both teams moving forward.
Doing it again, in Durham
A year ago, the Buckeyes made a statement in their battle against the Blue Devils, downing Duke handily by a score of 85-63 in Columbus. OSU guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said that the one thing that still sticks out to him about that game is the energy that existed within the Buckeyes' locker room on that night.
"When we started the game, I knew when they threw the ball up that we were ready to go," Smith said. "I wouldn't say that game was easy. I was just a defining moment for our team."
OSU coach Thad Matta said that it would be tough to top the Buckeyes' win over unbeaten Illinois in 2005 or Big Ten championship clincher against Wisconsin in 2011, but said that the Buckeyes' win over the Blue Devils a year ago was one of the most memorable in his nine-year history in Columbus.
"They missed some really, really easy shots to miss the game, and it kind of ignited us," Matta said. "We've had some big wins, and that's definitely one that would rank up there."
Playing the pinnacle
"It'll be a great test for this team," Smith 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."
With four national titles and a program that almost perennially has a top-10 team, despite losing players to the NBA on a regular basis, Matta called Duke the "pinnacle" of modern college basketball. After taking over the OSU program in 2004, Matta said that he attempted to model it after Duke, in hope of replicating its long-term success.
"It's obviously one of the biggest challenges now in college basketball, now, to do those things," Matta said. "I hope in 25 years, our program is still at the level that it is, because that's exactly what Duke has done. They've stood the test of time."
With Austin Rivers- who scored 22 points against the Buckeyes a year ago- now in the NBA, the Blue Devils' backcourt is controlled by Seth Curry, who is averaging 17 points per game in Duke's first six contests. Smith will likely draw the assignment of stopping Duke's second-leading scorer, who is the son of former NBA player Dell Curry and current Golden States Warrior guard Seth Curry.
"He can shoot the ball really well. I'm definitely going to have to try to take that away from him," Smith said. "From the film I've seen, he puts the ball on the floor well. It's definitely going to be different than guarding Austin Rivers last year."
Although Curry is a different player from Rivers in both terms of skills and style, Matta said that the Duke offense hasn't changed much, and that slowing down the 6-foot-2 Curry will be imperative for the Buckeyes' success.
"Curry has assumed Rivers' role, in terms of his ability and green light to shoot," Matta said. "They try to create space for him to get open to do a lot of different things."
Posting with Plumlee
In the post, Duke possesses its most dominant player in 6-foot-10 senior Mason Plumlee. The Warsaw, Ind. native is averaging a double-double this year, scoring an 19.7 points per game, while pulling down an average of 10 rebounds in the Blue Devils' first six contests.
"You try to get a read on his tendencies, and just he's so big, he's so athletic," Matta said. "He scores in plethora of ways."
Matta said that its Plumlee's versatility that makes him so good, and that it will certainly present a big test to OSU post players Evan Ravenel and Amir Williams.
"It's hard to say, 'Okay, he's going to do this when he catches it,'" Matta explained. "He's really, really good."
Always an intimidating environment, Duke's 'Cameron Crazies' student section should be on-point tomorrow for the 9:30 p.m. tip-off. As the face of this year's OSU squad and a player who's garnered much publicity nationally, OSU guard Aaron Craft knows that a chant or two will be thrown in his direction tomorrow night.
"I'm looking forward to that," Craft said, sarcastically. "My girlfriend's name has been chanted- she's actually heard it on TV before, watching. That's just interesting, it's all in fun and games."
Yet despite the hostile environment, Smith is looking forward to the Buckeyes leaving the friendly confines of Columbus. The junior guard believes that it's the road games that helps bring his team together and that will payoff in the long run.
"I'm always excited to play on the road. The road games help us the most towards the end of the season," Smith said. "We've heard about the Cameron Crazier and what not and the small arena, having a different feel to it. We'll get a chance to see tomorrow. We're excited."
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