Ohio State vs. North Dakota State 2013: Game Preview

WHERE

VALUE CITY ARENA

When

8:15 PM

How

BTN

Ohio State plays their second game in the BlackRock Gotham Classic, and will try and avoid becoming the second straight victim to be dealt an upset at the hands of North Dakota State. As the Buckeyes were having no problems with Bryant in Columbus on Wednesday night, the Bison were stunning Notre Dame in South Bend. Behind 26 points from senior Marshall Bjorklund, North Dakota State was able to spring the 73-69 upset of the Fighting Irish. The Bison were able to shoot over 50% from the field to take home a close game, in which neither team led by more than 6 points. This will be the first time that the Buckeyes and Bison have met on the basketball court.

After starting the season 2-3, North Dakota State has now reeled off five straight wins to head into Columbus with confidence. The early season losses that the Bison have suffered have been at the hands of perennial bracket-buster St. Mary's, Southern Miss, and in-state rival North Dakota. Before beating Notre Dame on Wednesday night, the Bison did play the same Bryant team that Ohio State handled, but didn't have nearly as easy a time with the Bulldogs as the Buckeyes did. The Bison hit the road last Saturday to play the Bulldogs, and were trailing 29-24 at half before regrouping in the second half to pull out a 66-62 win. North Dakota State was paced by 18 points from TrayVonn Wright to earn the victory in Rhode Island.

North Dakota State is led by 6'7" senior guard Taylor Braun, who is currently the leading score for the Bison, averaging 16.2 points per game. The scoring from Braun is nothing new for the Bison, as in both his sophomore and junior seasons he averaged 15.4 points per game. Braun put up one of the stranger games statistic-wise in one of the early season wins for the Bison, scoring 21 points against Santa Clara while going only 1-9 from the field but hitting all 19 free throws that he attempted in the game. Braun is able to dish it out as well as he puts it up, averaging 4 assists per game on the season, including notching 11 helpers in the 70-69 loss to Southern Miss in mid-November.

Braun isn't the only Bison scorer that Ohio State will have to try and lock down on tonight, as North Dakota State has six players that are averaging 9.5 points per game or more so far this season. Only five of those Bison players will see the floor though, with 2012 North Dakota Mr. Basketball Dexter Werner on the sidelines with a torn meniscus. Werner was injured in the season opener against Viterbo University after only 13 minutes on the floor in which he scored 12 points and grabbed 9 rebounds. Had Werner been in the lineup it could have created some matchup problems up front for the Buckeyes with the 6'6" 235 lb redshirt freshman teaming with 6'8" 250 lb senior Marshall Bjorklund.

While the Buckeyes don't have a ton of mass up front, they still do have Amir Williams to patrol the paint. The junior from Detroit continued his strong play to start the season with 12 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 blocks against Bryant on Wednesday night. Williams has added some offense to his game during the offseason, hitting double figures in scoring in five of the last six games for the Buckeyes. Currently Williams is averaging 10.7 points per game on the season, which is third-best on the Buckeyes through nine games. One of the more noticeable improvements in Williams' game has been from the free throw line. After shooting 35.7% and 55.7% in his first two seasons from the charity stripe, Williams is hitting at a 68.8% clip so far this season.

While Amir Williams has made significant strides offensively so far this season, the steadying force of the Ohio State offense lately has been Lenzelle Smith Jr. With production being inconsistent from LaQuinton Ross so far, Smith has taken the reigns, hitting double figures in scoring for the Buckeyes in five straight games, including leading the Buckeyes with 19 points against Bryant on Wednesday night. Smith is currently leading the Buckeyes in scoring on the season at 12.9 points per game, but that isn't the only area where he is doing work. During the five game stretch of double figure scoring that Smith is currently has going, he is also hitting the boards hard for the Buckeyes. The only game during that span in which Smith didn't grab at least 6 rebounds was in the win over Central Connecticut State, and he was able to pull down 8 rebounds against Bryant. That was the third game this season in which Smith was able to grab at least 8 rebounds.

The one area where the Buckeyes have been lacking lately has been on the glass. Ohio State and Bryant finished the game even on the boards with 38 rebounds a piece, and the last time the Buckeyes out-rebounded an opponent was against North Florida. Some of that is due to the Buckeyes forcing opponents into a lot of perimeter shots, which translates into long rebounds for the opposition. Still, the Buckeyes have to do a better job of fighting for those rebounds, because later on down the line in the season it could be a factor that decides one of the Buckeyes conference or even tournament games.

Numbers to Know

75

With the win over Bryant on Wednesday night, the Buckeyes have now won 75 straight games at home against unranked opponents. They can't take that streak for granted though with a Bison team that just went on the road to defeat Notre Dame coming into town. The Buckeyes are 141-2 under Thad Matta against unranked opponents at home.

51.3

With the win over Bryant on Wednesday night, the Buckeyes have now won 75 straight games at home against unranked opponents. They can't take that streak for granted though with a Bison team that just went on the road to defeat Notre Dame coming into town. The Buckeyes are 141-2 under Thad Matta against unranked opponents at home.

50+

With their 52.5% shooting performance against Bryant, the Buckeyes have now hit for over 50% from the field in four straight games. The last time they did that was in the 2008-09 season when they did that over a four-game stretch during Big Ten play.

Cast of Characters

Marshall Bjorklund

The 6'8 senior led the Bison with 26 points in the win over Notre Dame on Wednesday. Bjorklund currently is the second leading scorer this year for North Dakota State, averaging 15.2 points per game on the season. The Buckeyes will have to try and cool down Bjorklund, who is shooting 71.1% from the field.

Lawrence Alexander

Bjorklund wasn't the only one to make noise against Notre Dame, as the 6'3" junior scored 16 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in the upset. Alexander has a knack for getting to rebounds, averaging 5.6 rebounds per game, which is second among Bison regulars.

LaQuinton Ross

After being named Big Ten player of the week at the beginning of the week, Ross was only able to hit for 9 points against Bryant, but luckily the Buckeyes didn't need too much from him in the blowout victory. Ross sits second on the Buckeyes currently in scoring, averaging 11.1 points per game.

Aaron Craft

With his 4 assists against Bryant on Wednesday night, Craft now only needs 6 helpers to pass Jamar Butler's school record of 579 career assists. Also, 10 points from Craft will tie Carter Scott for 44th place on Ohio State's all-time scoring list with 1,074 career points.

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