March 21, 2013

Three-point play: Iona

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Five days after winning the Big Ten tournament in Chicago, the second-seeded Ohio State basketball team (26-7, 13-5) will return to action on Friday when it takes on No. 15 seed Iona (20-13, 11-7) in the second round of the NCAA tournament. On Wednesday, Thad Matta and members of his team met with the media to preview the Buckeyes' upcoming tipoff with the Gaels.

Maintaining momentum

Having rattled off eight consecutive wins, Ohio State enters March Madness as one of the nation's hottest teams. Buckeyes forward Deshaun Thomas said that the key to his team's success has been the unity that it's found since its Feb. 17 loss to Wisconsin.

"We just focus on us and our circle and what we got in our circle is us and our team. We don't let no distractions come into our circle, because we know once that happens, bad things can happen," Thomas said. "We just try to keep it in between us, each and every day, and just stay together."

With the media demands and travel logistics of the NCAA tournament, keeping things inside Ohio State's circle will be important now more than ever for the Buckeyes. Matta said that he's reminded his team already not to stray away from what got it there.

"We talk about it continuously. When we got together on Monday night, that was the gist of what we were talking about- what a great run we're on. It's not time to celebrate that now. It's not time to change who this basketball team is," Matta said. "We have to do what we do and there's a couple of standards in this program and let's make sure we play by them."

Going at the Gaels

In Iona, Ohio State will be facing the MAAC tournament champions, and a team that ranks second in the country in scoring with 80.7 points per game. Despite the Big Ten's grind-it-out style, Matta feels as though the Buckeyes have been properly prepared for the Gaels' unique style of play.

"We've seen segments of games. Some teams- Indiana plays fast, Iowa plays fast, Illinois plays fast. All those teams will stop and pull threes early in the shot clock," Matta said. "This is just more 40 minutes of it."

OSU guard Aaron Craft agreed with Matta in stating that Iona reminds him of some Big Ten teams, but also noted that the Gaels take those principles to whole new level.

"We've played a lot of styles this year in the Big Ten. Some people that like to get up and down and some people that like to slow it down. They're obviously more on the push-it, trap-type side of things," Craft said. "I don't think we've played anyone this year that tries to do it as much as they do. They're obviously a great team."

Jousting with Jones

Iona also possesses the nation's third-leading scorer in Lamont Jones, who is averaging 23 points per game for the Gaels. The Arizona transfer has impressed Matta, with his ability to score in multiple ways.

"He can score a lot of ways," Matta said. "He's got a lot of stuff to his game in terms off threes, off the ball screens, he'll pull up in transition, but he gets inside and he finishes at a very high level."

Drawing the assignment of covering Jones will be Craft, who isn't overlooking the Gaels, despite their No. 15 seed.

"There's no bad teams left in the tournament," said. "They like to get up, push the ball up and down a lot. It's going to be a K.Y.P. (keep your poise) game, and we'll see if we can have some fun with it."

[ Click here to follow the Buckeyes to Dayton for their first weekend of games ]


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