December 17, 2012

Three-point play: Winthrop

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A rematch with Kansas waits for the Ohio State basketball team at week's end, but before the Buckeyes can attempt to extract revenge on the Jayhawks, they must first face Winthrop in a 7 p.m. tipoff on Tuesday at the Schottenstein Center. On Monday, Thad Matta and members of his team met with the media to preview their upcoming battle with the Eagles and talk the latest happenings in Buckeye basketball.

Eyeing the Eagles

In Winthrop, OSU will be facing its second consecutive Big South opponent, and one that is coming off a 50-49 win over Ohio University in Athens on Saturday. Holding the Bobcats to 36 percent shooting, it was the Eagles' defense that impressed Matta the most in Winthrop's latest win.

"I do have a great respect for OU and I think it was great win for them," Matta said. "Their defense was off the charts in terms of challenging shots, activity around the basket, and they forced OU into a lot of turnovers. Our guys a great understanding of how good Ohio is and just what a great win that was for Winthrop."

Having won four consecutive games since their loss to Duke on Nov. 28, OSU sophomore Sam Thompson feels as though the Buckeyes have gotten better over the course of the last month. With its matchup with Kansas just four days away, Tuesday's tipoff will provide OSU with its last opportunity to take another step in the right direction before taking on the Jayhawks.

"We want to make improvements every day," Thompson said. "We will have had almost a month to get better between the Duke and Kansas games so we definitely want to go out there and execute the things that we've been working on."

Kansas around the corner

Although Kansas seemed to be on both the reporters' and players' minds during Monday's gathering, Matta made it clear that he's not looking past the Eagles and towards the Buckeyes' second primetime matchup of the season. The OSU coach said that he'll begin his preparations for the Jayhawks as soon as Tuesday's contest ends, but that he's already aware of the challenge that Saturday's opponent presents.

"I'll look more tomorrow night and at the conclusion of tomorrow night and take a deep breath and say, 'Okay, what does Kansas do?'" Matta said. "I don't know where Kansas is ranking-wise or anything like that, but I know this, they're a heck of a basketball team."

OSU forward Deshaun Thomas is not only looking forward to this Saturday's rematch from last season's Final Four, but what he learned from that matchup as well. The Buckeyes' leading scorer said that he's only gotten better since foul trouble only allowed him to play in 23 minutes of what was ultimately a two-point win for the Jayhawks.

"I learned a lot. I learned that basketball is all about balance," Thomas said. "If you play aggressive, you might get a foul called. If you play unaggressive, then you're getting blown by or you might get a foul. So it's all about balance."

Identifying an identity

With only three games remaining until the start of Big Ten play, Matta admitted that the Buckeyes are still struggling to figure out what this year's team is all about after the departures of William Buford and Jared Sullinger. The nine-year OSU coach feels as though his team is beginning to find itself, which is an encouraging sign for a relatively young team.

"Any time you lose, in essence, two great players in William and Jared, you're going to be looking for an identity, looking for something to kind of hang your hat on," Matta said. "I like the progress this team is making in that regard."

Thomas said that the Buckeyes' identity is beginning to present itself in practice, but that he also feels as though this team is yet to have reached its potential.

"We've gotten better and it shows in practice. We've competed, we're playing hard," Thomas said. "We just gotta take it up another notch with this team, 'cause we know we're not where we're at right now."


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