You’d have to go back 19 years to find the last time that the Ohio State men’s basketball team took on Ohio University -- in what was ultimately a 78-67 OU victory. The Bobcats from Athens will return to Columbus again tonight (8 p.m., Big Ten Network), with hopes of again knocking off the 10th-ranked Buckeyes.
On Monday, OSU players and coaches previewed tonight’s in-state matchup, and touched on some of the latest happenings around Buckeyes basketball.
Battling The Bobcats
In Ohio, the Buckeyes will be taking on team that is just two seasons removed from an improbable run to the Sweet 16, but has lost several key players from that and last year’s teams. This season, the Bobcats are led by junior forward Maurice Ndour, a 6-9, 203-pound junior college transfer, who scored 20 points and grabbed five rebounds in his Ohio University debut.
“They've got a lot of guys that have been in the program for a long time and guys that have won a lot of basketball games,” OSU head coach Thad Matta said. “That's exciting for us in terms of what we're going to be going up against."
Having spent time at the Bobcats’ rival, Miami (Ohio), as an assistant, Matta is plenty familiar with the Ohio program, which is located 75 miles southeast of Columbus.
"We had some great battles against them," Matta said. "Our guys have a great respect for Ohio University and what they've been able to accomplish and their personnel.”
Homecoming From The Hocking
Tonight’s non-conference battle will also double as a homecoming of sorts for three Bobcat ballers. Senior guard Nick Kellogg (Westerville), senior forward Jon Smith (Grove City), and junior guard Stevie Taylor (Gahanna) all hail from the Central Ohio area, and are plenty familiar with the members of the Ohio State roster.
"You see each other a lot on the AAU circuits and we've played a couple open gyms when they're back in the summer and we're here," OSU guard Aaron Craft said. “They're great kids, they're competitive, and they want to win just as much as we do.”
An Ohio native himself who wound up spending his playing days in Athens, Ohio State assistant coach Jeff Boals knows exactly what it will be like for the Central Ohio Bobcats to play in front of a hometown crowd.
"When I came in here I was an Ohio kid, and like everyone in Ohio, I wanted to come here, but I wasn't good enough to play at Ohio State," Boals said. "Playing on the other side and coaching on the other side, it's a huge game."
Speaking of Boals, he was a member of of that 1994-95 Ohio squad, which beat the Buckeyes in the preseason NIT. The then-captain and teammate of “The Shaq of the MAC” Gary Trent, Boals scored 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds against his future employer, in a game that he remembers vividly.
"I had two points at halftime, and coach (Larry) Hunter said if you're not gonna shoot the ball, we're gonna sit you down,” Boals recalled. “So I started shooting every time I got the ball and scored 12 points in the second half.”
Boals said that tonight will be business as usual for him, however, despite his love for Bobcats basketball.
“I follow every game. I’m a big supporter of Ohio University. I had a great time down there,” Boals said. “It’s another game on our schedule -- obviously it’s my alma mater -- but that’s how we’re looking at it.”
Aaron may have just missed the cut of being named a preseason All-American, but it was another member of the Craft family lighting up the Schottenstein Center on Sunday. Aaron’s sister, Cait Craft, a sophomore guard on the Ohio State women’s team, scored a career-high 29 points in the Buckeyes’ 91-88 win over FAU, which she followed by upping the stakes in her sibling rivalry.
“Aaron claimed that he beat me in the last game of ‘PIG,’ which is correct, but he does not always beat me. He lies,” Cait claimed. “My win-to-loss ratio in shooting games with Aaron is way higher than his.”
Aaron, for his part, opted to play the role of proud brother when asked about Cait’s career game, which topped his career best by a total of eight points.
“Yeah, she played alright. I just congratulated her and everything,” Aaron said. “You’re crazy if you think I didn’t point out that she should have had over 30 because she missed at least six free throws. That was actually the first thing that she told me.”
On a day dominated by headlines questioning where the Buckeyes’ football team should rank in the BCS , Craft managed to make some unintentional news of his own, telling a Cleveland radio station that he thought Florida State was the best team in college football. The senior guard clarified his comments to the Columbus media, even taking a jab at those trying to make something out of nothing.
“See, this is why people don’t like you guys,” Craft joked to the reporters in attendance. “What I said was, I like what I’ve seen from Florida State at this point, however, the way that our team has played the past few weeks and having a week off, it’s very very tough. You can’t not talk about Ohio State in that category.
“That’s what I said. But you left out the ‘but’ part.”