After securing five double-digit victories at home to begin the season, the No. 14 Ohio State men’s basketball team is set to hit the road to take on a top-five opponent.
OSU (5-0) will look to pass a major test against No. 5 Louisville (5-0) in Louisville, Ky., on Tuesday.
For the four freshmen in OSU’s rotation, including guard D’Angelo Russell, the game will mark the first on the road in their collegiate careers.
“I’m definitely looking forward to the atmosphere,” Russell said.
However, senior guard Shannon Scott said he has been stressing to the younger players to not think too much of Tuesday’s challenge.
“It’s another game, really. At the end of the day, somebody’s going to have a win and somebody’s going to have a loss,” Scott said. “It’s not really a special game where we have to feel like if we lose this game we can’t play no more basketball for the rest of our lives.”
Despite being an away game for OSU, the game will be played at home for Russell.
Russell is a Louisville native, though he played his final three years of high school basketball at Montverde Academy outside Orlando, Fla.
The freshman said he has had the game circled on his calendar all year, and is looking forward to playing in his hometown.
“It’s definitely a dream come true, to either play with them or play against them,” Russell said.
Russell, the leading scorer for the Buckeyes this season, said Louisville offered him a scholarship, but he preferred the “vibe” he felt when he visited OSU.
OSU coach Thad Matta said Russell’s hometown school did not present a large obstacle in landing the 2014 McDonald’s All-American.
“I don’t honestly remember Louisville being hot and heavy after him,” he said.
Russell said he has played with several players on the Cardinals’ roster, including his former Louisville Magic AAU teammate and freshman guard Quentin Snider.
Louisville comes into the game ranked fifth in the country in rebounding margin at +13.6 per game, while OSU ranks 64th.
Scott said avoiding that trend would be a key for the Buckeyes.
“We know Louisville’s one of the best, if not the best, rebounding team in the country, so we know we’re going to have to find a way to keep them off the boards,” he said.
Matta agreed with his point guard’s assessment that a major key to the game will be the battle on the glass.
“I think that they do a tremendous job of getting on the glass and not only getting put-backs but keeping the ball alive, knocking them out, those types of things. And they’re big. They have a very unique team in terms of how they play,” Matta said.
Louisville has four players averaging more than 11 points per game, led by forward Montrezl Harrell.
Matta had high praise for the junior, who is leading the team in points and rebounds per game.
“He’s special,” Matta said. “He plays at a high level, a high motor, very energetic. He’s got a lot of different ways that he scores.”
The coach had additional levels of praise for Louisville coach Rick Pitino, a two-time national champion.
“I view coach Pitino as one of the all-time greats in this profession,” Matta said.
However, despite the respect he has for the opponent, Matta said that the unselfishness coming from his starting backcourt of Scott and Russell has given him confidence that OSU can come out of Kentucky with a victory.
“I love the fact that both D’Angelo and Shannon have had great command of our offense, and in a game like tomorrow night, they’re going to have to be able to do it,” he said. “They’re going to have to make quick reads and good decisions, and I feel pretty comfortable with their ability to do that.”
Russell leads the Buckeyes in scoring with 18 points per game and has added 5.4 assists per contest, while Scott leads the nation in assists with 10.4 per game.
Louisville and OSU each rank in the top-10 for longest active NCAA Tournament appearance streaks, at eight and six years, respectively. The Cardinals cut down the nets in 2013 after defeating Michigan in the championship game.
Regardless of the result Tuesday night, Matta said that both playing on the road for the first time and facing an opponent as strong as Louisville will give him insight into his team moving forward.
“Tomorrow night, at the conclusion of the game, we’ll know a little bit more about our team and we’ll be a better team coming out of it,” he said.
Tip is set for 9:30 p.m.