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Last updated: 12/30/2012 7:04 PM

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Men's Basketball
Matta Hoping Buckeyes Focused Heading Into B1G Play
By Brandon Castel

Ohio State head coach Thad Matta liked just about everything he saw during Saturday’s 87-44 win over Chicago State. Everything, that is, until he looked at his team’s free throw numbers.

“I don’t know what that’s about,” Matta said after the game.

“It became contagious there. Obviously we have to shoot our free throws better. We also felt like going in to the game we have been putting our opponents on the line quite a bit.”

The Buckeyes completely dismantled Chicago State in the second half, outscoring the Cougars by 30 points, 50-20, over the final 20 minutes of their final nonconference game of the season.

Ohio State more than doubled Chicago State on the boards and had more offensive rebounds (24) than the Cougars had total rebounds (22) on the brand new floor at Value City in Columbus.

“They came out in the second half and let us know that they were ‘the big boys.’ They came and let us know that they are a top-10 team in the country,” Chicago State coach Tracy Dildy said.

“The second half was all Ohio State. We ran the same plays we ran in the first half and played the same people we did in the first half.”
 
Ohio State wasn’t bad in the first half either, outscoring the Cougars 37-24 before the break, but a lot of the focus had to be on the carry over of missed shots from the loss to Kansas one week earlier.

The Buckeyes got 12 first-half points from Deshaun Thomas, who continues to be this team’s best scorer at all times. They also got 11 from Lenzelle Smith, Jr., who bounced back from an dreadful shooting night against the Jayhawks with 11 in the first half Saturday.

“When my shots are not falling I tell myself I have to figure out a way to get the ball into the basket,” said Smith, a junior out of Illinois.

“After I shot my third three and it didn’t go in, I told myself stop shooting 3-pointers and get to the basket because that’s where I’m the strongest.”

Smith went 6-of-12 from the floor and finished with 13 points, but he missed all four of his free throw attempts as the Buckeyes were just 13-27 from the charity stripe in this one.

“I’m really disappointed in my foul shots and tonight let me know what I need to work on,” Smith added.

“I have to make sure when I have the opportunity to step to the foul line I make my shots.”

Point guard Aaron Craft made his free throw and sophomore LaQuinton Ross was 5-of-6 from the line, but their teammates were just 7-of-20 at the free throw line in this game. That even included Thomas, an 80 percent free throw shooter, was just 2-of-6 at the line.

Matta isn’t going to turn a small thing into a big deal at this point in the season, but the next time they shoot less than 50 percent at the free throw line it could very well cost them a game.

The Buckeyes will open conference play with Nebraska at home next Wednesday, but things ramp up quickly with trips to Illinois and Purdue over the first eight days of 2013. Matta’s Buckeyes also play Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin in the month of January, so Ohio State’s coach hopes his team understands what is coming at them.

“It has been a process of getting guys to understand and appreciate what it takes to get your mind ready to play every single minute you take the floor,” Matta said Saturday.

“From the standpoint of coaching, we just have to keep showing them the film, practicing at an incredible level and seeing improvement every time we take the floor.”

They will only do that 18 more times this season before the start of postseason play. That’s not a lot of time to get focused, but Thomas thinks the Buckeyes are ready to for the war that is coming their way.

“I feel we are,” he said.

“We have to make sure we trust each other and make sure we practice hard. We know everything game will be a fight, but Coach Matta has prepared us.”

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