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Men’s basketball: Ohio State face first test against Providence

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Kam Williams (15) shoots the ball during the Buckeyes home opener against North Carolina Central. The Buckeyes won 69-63. Ashley Nelson | Sports Director

Kam Williams (15) shoots the ball during the Buckeyes home opener against North Carolina Central. The Buckeyes won 69-63. Ashley Nelson | Sports Director

Monday’s 69-63 victory over the North Carolina Central Eagles had Ohio State men’s basketball coach left Thad Matta visibly upset. After watching the tape, sophomore guard C.J. Jackson said Matta brought a positive energy to the court for practice in preparation for Thursday’s game against the Providence Friars.

Matta said that the energy and activity on the offensive and defensive ends of the court were not at a level that he expects from the Buckeyes. However, Matta counted eight times on Monday where the Eagles knocked down shots with a hard closeout from an OSU defender. On Wednesday, he said those that those are shots he can live with.

“A lot of times when you’re playing a game, guys will make shots that you say ‘he couldn’t make that one again if he tried,’” Matta said. “With that said, it’s going to happen and how does that affect you going back the other way … I think that was the biggest issue.”

Through the first two games, OSU has shown spurts of execution mixed with periods of uninspired play. In a game of runs, like basketball, that is expected. But Matta said the issue is getting his players to think quicker in action. He said the million-dollar question is how to coach the team to think about the game more while on the court.

“I told our guys, ‘right now, on a scale from one to 10, I think we’re a two. But I don’t think there’s a coach in the country that thinks their team is above a three,’” Matta said. “Every guy has shown to play at a very, very high level. What we got to do is playing at that level a majority of the time. That’s what I’m after with these guys.”

Junior forward Keita Bates-Diop was sick last game, which was a reason why he only had nine points and two rebounds after a 14-point, 14-rebound game at Navy. He said he has recovered from his illness and will play on Thursday.

Providence

In the second annual Gavitt Tipoff Games, a schedule of games played between the Big Ten Conference and the Big East, OSU drew the Providence Friars for the 2016 slate.

Last season, the Friars lost to eventual national runner-up North Carolina in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Providence was led by point guard Kris Dunn and forward Ben Bentil, who have both moved on to professional careers. Dunn and Bentil led the team in scoring, averaging a collective 37.5 points per game. Right behind them was 6-foot-8 sophomore forward Rodney Bullock.

Now a junior, Bullock is the face of a Friars team that is hoping to return to the NCAA tournament for a fourth straight year. Bullock averaged 11.4 points per game in 2015-16, and he scored 18 points in a 80-58 victory in the season opener against Vermont.

Junior Kyron Cartwright takes over for Dunn at point guard and brings a high IQ to the court, allowing the offense to flow through him. Junior forward Emmitt Holt led the Friars with 22 points against Vermont. Holt, who played as a freshman at Indiana, was 8-for-12 shooting and snatched five rebounds as well.

OSU has struggled early on with communication on defensive switches on pick-and-roll action, which will be greatly test against sixth-year Providence coach Ed Cooley’s offense.

For a team that missed out on the NCAA tournament last season, the Buckeyes see the matchup against Providence as a win that could give an early jolt to the resume. The early losses in 2015-16 to Texas-Arlington and Louisiana Tech ended up being a major factor into why the Buckeyes were not in the field of 68 in March.

“Thinking back on last year, I don’t think we want that to happen this year again. We don’t want to drop early non-conference games like we did last year,” Bates-Diop said. “Those two games pretty much kept us out last year. I don’t like missing the tournament.”

OSU has had its struggles, but a win over a notable opponent from the Big East would do a lot for the confidence of the Scarlet and Gray.

“The focus is on just trying to get better, to get guys to play their best basketball and do that collectively,” Matta said. “We’ve shown some signs at times to do some pretty good things, but it’s been more about us and trying to get that flow of who we are.”

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