Patriots Want to Run, Buckeyes Happy to Lead the Way
By Brandon Castel
CLEVELAND, Ohio — When the Buckeyes took the court Friday at Quicken Loans Arena for their opening-round game of the NCAA Tournament, they came ready to run.
They had watched enough film of Texas-San Antonio to feel like they were ready to run with them, and why not with a name like Roadrunners. Instead, UTSA coach Brooks Thompson surprised everyone by doing his best to grind Friday’s game to a complete stand-still, at least until they had fallen behind by 30 points.
“You can’t fault Texas- San Antonio. They had a game plan and they followed it,” Ohio State senior Jon Diebler said.
“It’s not the first time a team has tried to hold the ball against us. It caught us a little off guard because of the film we watched, but it’s part of the game. Every team has their own philosophy.”
Diebler and the Buckeyes are expecting a much different tempo for their second-round matchup against No. 8-seed George Mason. The Patriots (27-6) are coming off a 61-57 win over 9-seed Villanova in their opening game of the tournament, but they are a team that likes to get out and run.
They averaged 73.3 points per game as a team this season, and a number of the George Mason players said they feel like they can use their speed to get out in transition against the size of Ohio State.
“If that’s what they want to do, I’m pretty sure we can do that, but we’re going to play our game,” said junior William Buford, probably Ohio State’s best fast-break player.
“We’re not going to get into what they want to do, we want to keep it at our tempo. If they want to run up and down, I’m pretty sure we can do that with the best of them. If that’s our game plan, that’s what we’re going to do.”
Ohio State coach Thad Matta wasn’t going to give away his game plan on Saturday, but there’s no question the Buckeyes will be ready to move at a much quicker pace come Sunday night (5:15 p.m. ET, CBS).
“I feel if a team wants to run with us, we’re definitely capable of running with them,” center Dallas Lauderdale said.
“We want that kind of game. The game we had yesterday was not that type of game and that’s the kind of game we want.”
Matta has made no secret of the fact he likes his teams to put points on the board. The Buckeyes have proven themselves capable of playing the slower pace run by some teams in the Big Ten, but ideally Matta would like to average 80 or 90 points a night.
Ohio State has averaged over 77 points per game this season and they are one of the best teams in the country at sharing the basketball.
“With this team, we can play half-court or we can get out and run with the guards we have. Either or, we’re in good shape,” freshman Jared Sullinger said Saturday.
“We love to get out with easy outlet passes to layups and easy advance passes to layups. We’re looking to score the basket in transition tomorrow.”
At 6-foot-9 and 280 pounds, Sullinger seems like he would be much better suited for the half-court game. He is an old-school back-to-the-basket post player, but that doesn’t mean he can’t play in transition.
“I can run the floor also,” said Sullinger, who averages 17 points and 10.1 rebounds per game this season.
“It really doesn’t matter, as long as we win. It’s not about stats, it’s about winning basketball games.”
The same goes for center Dallas Lauderdale, who has great athleticism for a player with a 7-foot wingspan.
“They don’t know, because me and Jared can run for bigs,” said Lauderdale, who had a pair of big dunks in transition Friday.
“We can run.”
But there is more to an up-and-down game than just getting out in transition. The Buckeyes must do a good job of rebounding the ball against a team that grabbed 12 offensive boards Friday against Villanova.
They also better defend against a George Mason team that shoots 47.4 percent from the field and 39.4 percent from behind the arc.
“We got to lock down on our transition defense,” Buford said.
“We can’t let them get open shots and open layups. We’ve got to talk more and communicate more on defense.”
The Patriots have shown they can get out and run this year, and unlike the Roadrunners, they aren’t likely to back down from the challenge of facing the No. 1-ranked team in the country. However, they may be playing right into Ohio State’s hands.
“I’m pretty sure they can go up and down too, but I feel if we play good defense and play together as a team, and if we get out in the open court, it’s going to be kind of difficult for them to stop us,” Buford said.
No one has to this point.
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