January 25, 2013

Three-point play: Penn State

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Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Four days after its near collapse in a 72-63 win over Iowa, the No. 14 Ohio State men's basketball team (14-4, 4-2) will hit the road on Saturday to travel to Happy Valley, Pa. and face Penn State (8-11, 0-7). On Friday, Thad Matta and members of his team met with the media to help preview the Buckeyes' battle with the Nittany Lions.

Bad breakdown

After suffering a loss at the hands of Michigan State a week ago, the Buckeyes bounced back with their win over the Hawkeyes on Tuesday, but it didn't come easy. Iowa gave OSU everything it could handle, fighting back from a 24-point deficit to cut the Buckeyes' lead to four points with less than two minutes to play.

On Friday, Matta said that he likes the way that his team has bounced back from the near-upset.

"I really liked practice today. I thought we were tuned in and had good energy, but we've just kind of been grinding it," Matta said. "A lot of two-a-days, not full-out practices in the second one, but shooting and ball-handling and things like that. We're at that stage I keep telling the guys, this team has a lot of room to get better."

OSU forward Evan Ravenel echoed Matta's thoughts, stating that practices this season have been much more intense than those in the past.

"It's real competitive," Ravenel said. "Guys really want to prove themselves this year. Guys want to show coach that they can play and I don't think last year some of the younger guys took it as serious."

Lining up the Lions

In Penn State, the Buckeyes will be facing the Big Ten's worst team, and the league's only team without a conference win this season. That doesn't mean that OSU shouldn't be wary of the Nittany Lions, who have built a reputation of winning games that they're underdogs in.

"The greatest lesson we have, and we've talked about it every day since it happened, but the Illinois game- I don't know what happened in terms of where we were," Matta said. "Penn State knocks off a top-25 team every year at home. They've done it notoriously for a long time."

OSU forward and leading scorer Deshaun Thomas said that the Buckeyes have heard Matta's message loud and clear, and are determined to make sure that Penn State's signature win doesn't come against them.

"Penn State, they play hard. They're a scrappy team," Thomas said. "They're known for knocking off a ranked team at home once a year and we ain't gonna try to let it be us. They scrappy, they fight real hard."

"They haven't won a game in the league, but they've been in games," Ravenel said. "We gotta come ready to play, we gotta come ready to play our basketball."

Identity crisis?

Now past the midway point of the season, even Matta would admit that his team is yet to truly find a true identity, especially on the offensive end of the floor. While that may concern some coaches this far into the year, the OSU coach said that the strides that the Buckeyes have made have been positive ones.

"I like the progress we're making," Matta said. "Our identity would definitely start with the defensive end of the floor. When we're locked in and engaged defensively, we're pretty good. With that said, we know that if we're not executing at the level we need to execute offensively, we struggle."

Ravenel also agreed that the Buckeyes have made progress on offense, despite the team still having yet to establish a consistent second-leading scorer behind Thomas.

"I feel as though guys are finding themselves offensively. We know what we gotta do defensively," Ravenel said. "In the beginning of the season, we struggled at putting the ball in the hole at times. I think now, we're coming to a point (where we know) okay, this guy can do this with the ball, that guy can do that with the ball, now let's get these guys in the situations to perform."


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