February 14, 2013

Three-point play: Northwestern

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Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Four days after suffering an 81-68 loss at the hands of No. 1 Indiana, the No. 3 Ohio State men's basketball team (17-6, 7-4) will return to action on Thursday for a 7 p.m. home tipoff against Northwestern (13-11, 4-7). On Wednesday, Thad Matta and members of his team met with the media to help preview tonight's matchup between the Buckeyes and Wildcats.

Back at it

After losing games to the Hoosiers and Michigan a week ago, it's been 12 days since Ohio State last enjoyed a win. Buckeyes' point guard Aaron Craft is hopeful that his team's drought will come to an end tonight, and that it will be the last one of such that it endures this season.

"We're just excited to play again," Craft said. "Luckily in basketball you get to play twice in a week, you don't have to wait for a whole week like football."

Even with the setback that last week brought, Matta isn't completely discouraged by his team's efforts. Playing in arguably the best conference in all of college basketball, the ninth-year OSU coach knew that this season would be a grind before it even started.

"We are in a tremendous league and there's a lot of great teams,'' Matta said. "I told the team before the season started, this year's going to be about getting knocked down, getting back up and fighting again.''

Knowing Northwestern

Despite having never been to an NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats have had a knack for playing the Buckeyes close. Two seasons ago, Northwestern took Ohio State to overtime in the Big Ten Tournament, and last season, it took a Jared Sullinger layup in the final seconds of the game to seal a Buckeyes' victory.

Having played in both of those games, Craft said that the Wildcats have done a good job of equalizing more talented opponents.

"Their style of play gets them in every game. A couple of times, they've gotten a couple of offensive rebounds and then they hold the ball for another 30 seconds and get an easy look," Craft said. "It's a big thinking game, it's a big kind of concentration and patience game and we're just trying to take care of what we need to do."

Sitting in third-to-last-place in the Big Ten standings, Northwestern has dealt with injuries to star Joe Crawford and big men Alex Olah and Jared Swopshire this season. And while Matta sympathizes with the Wildcats' struggles, he also knows that his team has a job to do.

"It's obviously unfortunate in terms of the injuries they have. You feel bad for the kids," Matta said. "Somebody told me a long time ago that we're all a sprained ankle away from mediocrity. There's a lot of truth to that."

Realistic expectations

With the Buckeyes now two and a half games back in the Big Ten standings, Ohio State's streak of three consecutive regular season conference titles appears to be nearing an end. That hasn't deterred Matta, who doesn't pay much attention to the league's hierarchy until the end of each season.

"My expectations are getting this team to play as best as it possibly can play," Matta said. "My mindset is these are the things that we've got to do better. There's a ton of basketball still to be played. I'll be honest, even when we were in first place in this league, I never looked at what place we were in."

Buckeyes' center Amir Williams agreed that the expectations that his team has set for itself haven't changed, and believes that Ohio State should still be viewed as one of college basketball's elite college basketball programs.

"It's definitely a winning program. We went to the Final Four last year," Williams said. "It's just something that we have to continue to build on while we're here."


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