Ohio State returns to the court tonight when they tip off against the Sacred Heart Pioneers in the first game of the Buckeye Classic. This will be the first time ever that the Buckeyes have squared off against the Northeast Conference foe. Thad Matta's squad will be hoping to run their record to 3-0 after early season wins over UMass-Lowell and Marquette.
The last time the Buckeyes took the court they earned a 74-63 decision over Marquette, led by some hot shooting to go along with strong production off the bench from Kam Williams, who scored a team-high 15 points. The biggest story for Ohio State in the game though was the performance of Shannon Scott, who dished out a career-high 14 assists after dropping 11 dimes against UMass-Lowell in the season opener.
While Ohio State was hot from outside in the first half against Marquette, which helped them to a 33-26 halftime lead, they took their talents inside in the second half. After scoring just 10 points in the paint in the first 20 minutes, after the halftime break the Buckeyes scored 32 points in the paint, including Amir Williams contributing all six of the field goals he hit in the game.
Early in the season Ohio State has been able to use a heavy rotation, with 10 players playing 10 minutes or more in both games. Unlike some years where the Buckeye bench has been a little shallow, this year provides Thad Matta with players that can contribute when called upon. The depth could really help down low with the addition of Anthony Lee to go along with Amir WIlliams and Trey McDonald.
Even though the season is young, these two teams have a common opponent, but the results were very different. While the Buckeyes rolled over UMass-Lowell 92-55 last Sunday, Sacred Heart fell to the River Hawks 57-54 on Thursday night. The Pioneers were plagued by horrible shooting in the game, hitting only 18 of the 51 field goals they attempted. Evan Kelley was the only Sacred Heart player to hit double-figures, scoring 10 points in the defeat.
Sacred Heart really struggled in the 2013-14, posting a 5-26 record. The Pioneers have been playing teams tough. Including the loss to UMass-Lowell on Thursday, 12 of the last 16 losses by Sacred Heart have come by single digits. Sacred Heart will have to find a way to replace 40% of their scoring, 38% of their rebounding, and 34% of their minutes from last year. Luckily the Pioneers return four players that started at least 15 games last season.
Anthony Latina is in his second year and Fairfield, and is tasked to try and turn around a team that hasn't had a winning season since 2009-10, and hasn't made a NCAA Tournament in their 15 season as a member of Division I. It is looking like it will be a slow build for the team, as they were tenth in the Preseason NEC Coaches Poll.
Numbers to know
After two games Ohio State tops the nation, shooting 63.3% from the field, which is a welcome change after some of the shooting performances that Buckeye fans saw last year. Having topped 60% from the field in the first two games, the Buckeyes shot over 60% in back-to-back games for the first time since 2009 when they did so against Indiana and Purdue.
The number of consecutive wins by Ohio State at home against unranked non-conference opponents. The Buckeyes have been especially good at home against non-conference opponents under Thad Matta, compiling a 111-6 record. During that span the Buckeyes have won 95 of their last 96 at home against non-conference opponents, with the only loss coming in December of 2008 against West Virginia.
In all 11 games that Sacred Heart has played against a ranked team in their history, they have failed to pick up a win. The last time the Pioneers squared off against a ranked team was back in 2006 when they lost to #20 UConn 89-46. The closest Sacred Heart has come to beating a ranked team was in 2003 when they fell to Marquette 77-72. To go along with their poor history against ranked teams, the Pioneers are also winless against Big Ten teams, going 0-4, with three of those losses coming to Penn State.
Cast of characters
No Aaron Craft? No problem for Shannon Scott. The senior has taken little time to settle into the starting point guard role, dishing out double-digit assists in the first two games of the year. Scott leads the nation with 12.5 assists per game, and the career-high 14 assists he recorded against Marquette were tied for second most in Ohio State history. Scott narrowly missed double-doubles in both games, scoring nine points against UMass-Lowell and eight points against Marquette. Along with his court vision, Scott has show glimpses of his stellar defense this year, registering two steals
Despite only playing 15.5 minutes per game, the redshirt freshman is Ohio State's leading scorer so far this season, averaging 13.5 points per game. After being forced to redshirt last year after a bout with mononucleosis, Williams is providing a punch for the Buckeyes off the bench. After scoring 12 points in his Ohio State debut last Sunday against UMass-Lowell, Williams paced the Buckeyes with 15 points in the win over Marquette on Tuesday night. Williams is showing to be an early threat from distance, going 5-8 from three-point range in the first two contests.
The senior has been an assist machine for the Pioneers during his tenure with the team. In 2012-13 he averaged 7.9 assists per game, which ranked second in the country. Last year he averaged 6.3 assists per game, which ranked 10th in the nation. During the 2013-14 campaign Gaetano was the only Sacred Heart player to start all 31 games during the season. In the win over Hartford he racked up seven assists, but only two in the loss to UMass-Lowell.
Barnett impressed during his freshman year for the Pioneers as he was named to the NEC All-Rookie team after averaging 11 points per game and 4.6 rebounds per game. He started his sophomore season even stronger for Sacred Heart, scoring 18 points and grabbing seven rebounds in the win over Hartford. In the early season Barnett is averaging 13 points per game and six rebounds. The Buckeyes will have to keep an eye on the sophomore, especially with the ability of Gaetano to find his teammates for baskets.