December 7, 2012

The stretch four: Long Beach State

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Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A week removed from having played its most recent game, the No. 7-ranked Ohio State men's basketball will return to the court on Saturday for a 12 p.m. tip-off with Long Beach State. Head coach Thad Matta and members of his team met with the media on Thursday to preview their matchup with the 49ers, and talk about the latest happenings around Buckeye basketball.

Putting the student in student-athlete

The reason for Ohio State's delay between games stems from this week being the start of class finals for OSU students. A first-team Academic All-American, Buckeyes' point guard Aaron Craft has managed to remain relaxed, during what is often a stressful time for students.

"I actually have a phenomenal finals schedule. I only have three and I've already taken one. I have one Friday and one Monday," Craft explained. "They're spread out enough that I don't have to study a ton every night."

While Craft admitted that there has been an adjustment dealing with a semester-based school schedule for the first time, Boston College transfer and current OSU center Evan Ravenel said is used to focusing on tests both on and off the court at this time of the year.

"Having already been through semesters, I'm pretty familiar with it," Ravenel said. "I don't have a problem with it all."

The Q-rating

One hot topic of conversation at the Schottenstein Center on Thursday was the play of OSU sophomore forward LaQuinton Ross, who scored a career-high 22 points in the Buckeyes' win over Northern Kentucky last Saturday. Ravenel said that he's always seen that type of potential in Ross, and now it's just a matter of him showing it on a consistent basis.

"LaQuinton's a special type of player, like probably one of the most talented offensive players I've ever had the benefit of playing with," Ravenel said. "It's just the fact of him bringing it every night and staying with that same intensity level."

On the defensive side of the floor, Ross still isn't as consistent as Matta would like him to be, but said that he is making strides towards becoming a better all-around player.

"He's starting to understand conceptually what we're trying to do. His importance of communicating and positioning," Matta said. "He's very long and having the ability to use that length defensively is a little more of a mindset."

Shooting through it

The recent emergence of Ross could be an important one for the Buckeyes, given the recent shooting woes that they have experienced. Despite ranking 76th in the nation with an field goal percentage of 46 percent on the season, OSU has failed to top the 40 percent mark in each of its past two games.

"It just comes down to kind of putting the ball in the basket," Craft said. "With the number of shots that I've shot, with the number of shots that our team has shot throughout the spring and summer, there's no reason for us to be shooting that low of a percentage."

Some of the Buckeyes' recent troubles stem from a shooting slump that Craft has been experiencing, which has seen the junior guard make just five of 24 shot attempts in OSU's past two games.

"Any time you miss some shots, you're going to over-think some things. I'm a thinker and I like to do that, probably a little too much," Craft said. "I'm just trying to enjoy the game and play with the feel that I've been gifted with. I've been through the battles."

Fighting the 49ers

An NCAA Tournament team from a season ago, Long Beach State comes to town having lost its top three scorers from a season ago. The 49ers have posted a 3-5 record so far this season, but Ravenel said that they're still playing the same style that helped them earn a 12-seed in last season's 'big dance.'

"They're still the same type of team," Ravenel said. "Even though they don't have a typical center, they still like to go inside and play physical. Active on defense. We've just got to play smart and don't get rattled with the different types of defenses they play."

Long Beach State has attempted an average of 21.35 three-point shots in each of its first eight games, connecting on 31.6 percent of them. Craft said that the Buckeyes will need to be cautious of the 49ers outside of the arc, regardless of how much time is left on the shot clock.

"If they're open, they're going to shoot it. They don't mind if there's 33 seconds on the shot clock," Craft said. "They've got guys capable of making those shots too."


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