It had a case for being Ohio State’s most impressive win of the season, a game that at least seemed to display all of the key elements for what head coach Thad Matta would consider a complete basketball game.
The Buckeyes’ 90-72 win over UNC-Asheville on Saturday had it all. Ohio State got out in transition with relative ease and finished in most of those instances, it had four different players score in double figures and the team even had a little something for the highlight reels, this time a windmill dunk from uber-athletic forward Sam Thompson.
It was everything you’d expect from the No. 7 team in the nation.
And all of this went on in front of Asheville head coach Eddie Biedenbach, who like most coaches this season entered the Value City Arena press conference room after the game with nothing but flattering comments for the home team.
But one stood out.
“I think Ohio State is one of the top six teams in the country, and talent-wise I think they can get all the way to No. 1,” said Biedenbach, who has led Asheville’s program since 1996. “I don’t think Indiana (who has since fallen to No. 6 in both national polls after being upset by Butler in overtime on Saturday) is more talented than Ohio State, but I think they play harder, which is unbelievable because Ohio State plays hard.”
The comment wasn’t intended to be a slight on OSU’s performance, but it was telling nonetheless. The veteran coach simply wasn’t ready to put the Buckeyes in the same category as Indiana, the team he perceived at the time as being No. 1 in the nation.
Perhaps it is a sobering thought for the Buckeyes, who entered that same postgame interview room minutes earlier laughing and joking, sporting a demeanor that clearly indicated they were cheerfully content having just won their fourth game in a row by a margin 18 points or more.
Matta saw the game differently. Sure, the head coach was happy to see his team secure the win in convincing fashion, but he also saw a group of players that were enjoying the blowout a little too much. The team’s sense of urgency, the coach noted, lessened as the lead increased.
“He is trying to get (the most) out of us and for us to play for a full 40 minutes,” junior forward Deshaun Thomas said. “In the last game, we lost that war because Coach wanted us to finish the game. He talked about Kansas and said they played for 40 minutes and they play pretty hard, and said that’s where we need to be.”
Matta said it was a coincidence that he happened to see the end of Kansas’ 29-point win over Belmont on Dec. 15, but it wasn’t by happenstance that he mentioned the intensity the No. 9 Jayhawks showed in the victory.
Ohio State hosts Winthrop tonight, but the Buckeyes’ next real test comes this Saturday against the same Kansas team that beat them twice last year, including in the Final Four to end the team’s season.
The Buckeyes feel encouraged by the improvement they’ve shown in their last four victories, which is warranted because they've since shown proficiency in areas that were struggles in their lone loss at Duke on Nov. 28.
OSU's coach, however, has urged his team to be careful not to fall into the lull of over-confidence after experiencing four consecutive blowouts of teams that have been generally overmatched in talent.
"Using UNC-Asheville as an example, I think we had them down by 29 points at some point in the second half and they brought it back to 17," Thompson said. "That’s just the maturity process for us.
“We have to play for 40 minutes because Coach Matta always said that we’re not playing for a Dec. 15 game, our sights are for late March and early April. We have to be better and we cant have those lapses in the games or have those times where we come in and not go as hard in practice. We have to keep our foot on the gas.”
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