December 14, 2012

Three-point play: UNC Asheville

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- After putting together three consecutive full 40-minute efforts since its loss to Duke, the No. 7-ranked Ohio State men's basketball team will return to the court on Saturday to host UNC Asheville for a 12 p.m. tip-off. With a week to go until their showdown with No. 9 Kansas, OSU coach Thad Matta and members of his team met with the media on Friday to preview the Buckeyes' next matchup.

Battling the Bulldogs

In UNC Asheville, the Buckeyes will be welcoming a 3-6 opponent, but one that has plenty of experience playing big time opponents. As Matta pointed out, the Bulldogs nearly pulled off an upset at North Carolina State on Nov. 23, and is emerging from the Big South as a team that can play with any opponent.

"Asheville has definitely, over the course of the last few years, has solidified themselves as one of those mid-major programs," Matta said. "As you look at where they are this year, they lost at N.C. State by two, Providence beat them by five, they've had a couple other really really close games. They've won two in a row."

At the opening round of the NCAA Tournament in Pittsburgh last season, the Buckeyes got an up-and-close look at UNC Asheville, witnessing the No. 16-seed in the East Region nearly knock off No. 1 seed Syracuse in what was ultimately a 72-65 win for the Orange.

"They're a great team. They have guys that have experience from last year almost knocking off Syracuse in the tournament and being a part of that. They almost beat N.C. State at N.C. State, which is very tough to do," OSU guard Aaron Craft said. "We gotta come in and be ready to go. They got a few guys that can score the ball, so it's definitely not just trying to shut down one guy and expecting everything to be okay."

Crafting his shot

After opening the season as OSU's second leading scorer, Craft has struggled with his shot as of late, averaging five points per game in the Buckeyes' past four games, and didn't score at all in OSU's latest win over Savannah State. Regardless of his scoring slump, Craft isn't too worried about his individual play on the offensive end of the floor."

"I don't know any percentages. I don't know points or anything like that," Craft said. "I do know the last couple of games that we've gotten better as a basketball team and that's the biggest thing for us. The worst thing we can do is start trying to think individual."

Matta dismissed the notion that Craft is struggling to finding his place alongside fellow point guard Shannon Scott, and remains confident that the scoring from the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year will come when it needs to.

"I don't think there's been that much of an adjustment. I think it's maybe just lent itself to the opportunities haven't been there," Matta said. "Aaron has shown that he can score the basketball and we know we're going to need him to but I don't think there's anything position-wise that's affecting that."

Everybody loves Amedeo

Also available at interviews on Friday was the Buckeyes' lone freshman this season, Amedeo Della Valle. The three-point specialist and fan favorite said that he has enjoyed the support that he's received from OSU fans, who often encourage him to shoot as soon as he touches the ball.

"I love it, honestly. I love the fans, they love me- I don't know why," Della Valle said. "Sometimes it's hard, you know. I get the ball just at half court and they yell at me to shoot it and I really can't do that."

Matta said that the only thing holding Della Valle back from more playing time thus far is his strength, as the Alba, Italy native has admitted that he didn't touch a weight until he arrived on the OSU campus last summer.

"Being the only freshman in the program, when he came in last year, everybody knew the lifts, everybody knew how to do it, what to do, and we've been doing a lot of extra with Amedeo. Even on game day, he's getting extra lifting in," Matta said. "That's probably been his biggest adjustment is just the strength and the physicality of practice."


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