January 2, 2013

Three-point play: Nebraska

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- After 12 games against non-conference opponents, the Ohio State men's basketball team (10-2) will finally begin Big Ten play tonight when it will host Nebraska for a 6:30 p.m. tipoff at the Schottenstein Center. Following their win over Chicago State on Saturday, head coach Thad Matta and members of his squad helped preview the Buckeyes' conference tipoff with the Huskers.

Big Ten battling

With six nationally ranked teams and five that reside in the country's top 12, the Big Ten as competitive as ever heading into Matta's ninth season in Columbus. Having coached the Buckeyes to a share of each of the past three conference titles, Matta is well aware of the journey that his team is about to embark on.

"The Big Ten is the Big Ten. And there's no question you're going into 18-straight games that are going to brutal. There's no doubt about that," Matta said. "Big Ten basketball's as good as it gets across the board. I think from that perspective, it is exciting, but also you're like, 'Strap it on, here we go.'"

A part of OSU's past two conference titles, junior forward Deshaun Thomas is also prepared for the start of Big Ten play, and said that the key for the Buckeyes will be having trust in Matta, who possesses five league titles on his resume.

"We just gotta have trust in each other and just go out and practice hard and listen to coach," Thomas said. "Every night is going to be a fight night and everybody's gonna compete, so I think we're gonna be ready, and coach is going to have us ready for the challenge."

Who are the Huskers?

While the Big Ten does possess 2012-13 powerhouses such as Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois, the Buckeyes' first conference foe this season will be one of the league's lower level opponents in Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are currently enjoying a 9-4 season under first-year head coach Tim Miles.

"A new staff. I don't know, I'll know here in the next 30 minutes," Matta said regarding the Huskers following the Buckeyes' game on Saturday. "I don't know a ton just yet."

Despite Nebraska lacking the star power of the Hoosiers and Wolverines, OSU guard Aaron Craft is confident that the Huskers will have the Buckeyes' full attention heading into tonight's tipoff.

"Going 10-2 in the non-conference, I think we've played some pretty good teams that have set us up to be competitive in the Big Ten," Craft said. "Understanding that every team is a great team and every team has the potential to win each game."

Free throw woes

While Ohio State will head into its Big Ten opener on a high note after its 87-44 win over Chicago State, there were some negatives to take away from its encounter with the Cougars. The Buckeyes made just 13 of their 27 free throw attempts, including a a 2-for-6 performance from Thomas and an 0-for-4 performance from guard Lenzelle Smith Jr.

"I guess it was flashback of last year. I stepped to the line and didn't knock my free throws down," Smith said. "Very disappointed about it. It just lets me know what I have to work on. I gotta get back in the gym and when I step to the line, I've gotta be able to knock those down."

With the physical nature of the Big Ten, Matta said that it's imperative that the Buckeyes show better efforts from the charity stripe moving forward.

"It became contagious there. Obviously we have to shoot our free throws better than that," Matta said. "For whatever reason, they didn't go down, but we're definitely going to have to make our free throws."


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