Buckeyes Finally Know First-Round Opponent
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — When Thad Matta woke up Wednesday morning, he immediately went to work preparing for Ohio State’s opening-round game in the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
Ohio State Head Basketball Coach Thad Matta
cuts down the nets at the Big Ten tournament.
Photo by Jim Davidson
It’s something Matta had done eight times in his previous 10 seasons as a head coach, but this time there was something missing:
The No. 1-seeded Buckeyes knew they would open tournament play Friday (4:40 p.m. ET, TNT) at Quicken Loans Arena in downtown Cleveland. What they didn’t know on Wednesday morning was who they would be facing.
“For us as a staff, I’ve never been through this. We’re in the NCAA Tournament, who are you playing? I don’t know,” Matta said during his press conference Wednesday afternoon.
“And it’s been this way for three days now. Which is odd, but I’ll take it. I’m not complaining.”
Even if he was, it would likely fall on deaf ears. Ranked No. 1 in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll, the Buckeyes (32-2) were rewarded with the top overall seed in this year’s tournament. It might not look like much of a reward now that the regions are set, but Ohio State did draw the winner of a play-in game between 16-seeds Texas-San Antonio and the Alabama State Hornets.
The Hornets were a .500 team heading into the tournament, but they were playing their best basketball at the end of the year. After starting the season with 11 losses in their first 14 games, Alabama State won 11 of their last 12 down the stretch, capturing the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) tournament title.
It earned them an automatic bid into March Madness, but their stay would be short-lived. The Hornets were bounced from Wednesday night’s play-in game with a 70-61 loss to UT-San Antonio, and the game was never that close.
The Roadrunners (20-13, 9-7 Southland Conference) got 25 points from Melvin Johnson III in the first half and led 48-21 at the break. That means Johnson outscored the entire Alabama State team by four points. He scored only four points in the second half, as Alabama State used a fierce full-court press defense to make it a much closer final score. They outscored the Roadrunners 40-22 in the second half, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the colossal halftime deficit.
“We let a guy get 25 points in the first half,” ASU senior Tramayne Moorer told the AP.
“He outscored us!”
The 29 points was a career-high for Johnson, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a scorer. The sophomore out of Dallas has now scored double-digits in 14 straight games, and has posted four 20-point games in his last seven times on the court.
He will take that hot shooting to Cleveland to face an Ohio State team that got burned by a lot hot shooter in both of their losses this season.
“No. 31, if he's on like he was tonight, it should be a pretty good game,” Alabama State junior Jeffery Middlebrook told the AP.
Johnson was 9-of-17 from the field, but only 2-of-8 behind the arc. He did scored nine points at the free throw line in 13 trips. The Roadrunners also got 14 points from freshman Jeromie Hill and 10 from senior Devin Gibson, who leads the team in scoring at 17 points per game this season.
All three names are new to Matta and his staff.
“You don’t know a lot about their players now as opposed to the Big Ten teams where you’ve seen guys for years and you have a good understanding of who they are and what they can do,” Matta said.
The Buckeyes were not allowed to have any one scouting the “play-in game” in person Wednesday night, despite the fact it was just down the road in Dayton, but no one could stop them from watching on TV like the rest of America.
The Buckeyes were actually in Cleveland Wednesday night as they awaited their opponent, who should join them on Thursday.
“San Antonio is going to play tonight and we’ll be in Cleveland when we find out who we’re playing, but they’ve got to hop on a bus and get up there for media and shooting,” Matta said.
That doesn’t leave a lot of time for either team to get much scouting in before the game tips off on Friday, but the Buckeyes feel prepared for whatever style they are going to face in the NCAA Tournament.
“Watching the opponents we could possibly play, everything we’ve seen throughout 35 games this year we feel confident there’s nothing we can see that we haven’t seen before,” Matta said.
“We’re getting back to as much of the basics as we possibly can, but at this point in the season you have to faith in the fact these guys are going to be able to adjust on the fly. That’s such a huge key of having success in the NCAA tournament is your defense.”
Especially now that they know the name Melvin Johnson III.
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