The Ohio State men’s basketball team has adopted a team-first motto this season, but they would be well served to remember another one.
Remember, remember, the sixth of November.
Last year, a young Buckeye squad took to the court for its final preseason exhibition game in what was supposed to be a tune-up contest against Division II foe Findlay, Ohio. What began as a glorified scrimmage turned to embarrassment when the Oilers handed OSU a 70-68 defeat on the strength of a 16-2 run that gave them an insurmountable lead.
The Buckeyes would go on to lose 13 games that year against 24 wins and a postseason NIT championship, but the loss to the Oilers has this year’s team vowing to learn from last year’s mistakes.
“Probably everyone from last year still on the team probably has that in the back of their mind,” junior swingman David Lighty said. “We don’t want that to happen again. We have so many new players I don’t really think they realize it’s game time now. Every game is time to go 100 percent.”
As one of the team’s freshman a year ago, guard Evan Turner admitted that his head was not in the right place to guard against Findlay’s upset bid.
“I just thought it was going to be a tune-up for the season,” he said. “I really had no clue at all. They made us look like little kids at certain points. They taught us a lesson. It was a good wake-up call early.”
The trick this year is to make sure an OSU roster that boasts four scholarship freshmen and two junior-college transfers does not suffer the same misstep to open the season. To guard against that, Lighty and the team’s older players said they have put an emphasis on making sure the newcomers understand the urgency of hitting the ground running when the ball is tipped at 7 p.m. Thursday night against visiting Walsh.
The game is not the first exhibition of the season for the Buckeyes, just the first that fans and media members are allowed to watch. OSU participated in a closed scrimmage against Miami (Ohio) on Nov. 2, and head coach Thad Matta said the goals for this exhibition are similar to those from the first scrimmage.
“There’s so many things I want to see them do,” he said. “How we execute offensively and defensively, do we play together, do we play off of each other? How hard do we play, how do we handle adversity? Are we able to have some resilience to us? If they hit six straight points on us, where do we go from there? Who takes charge at that point?
“Those would be the things that I’d like to see, and just guys doing what they’re supposed to do.”
One thing he would like to see out of his charges is an improved ability to play defense. Asked about his team’s progress guarding the ball, Matta said the defense “sucks.” He then amended that by saying the defense “isn’t very good,” before settling on, simply, “stinks.”
However, he tempered his assessment somewhat by adding that he was not sure if the team’s offense is playing well or its defense is playing poorly.
When the Buckeyes take the floor, they will be without sophomore power forward Dallas Lauderdale. After suffering a slightly separated left shoulder in the scrimmage against Miami, Lauderdale will not take part in the exhibition game. In his place, Lighty will likely assume a lot of the power forward spot as the Buckeyes utilize a four-guard set.
Lauderdale’s injury is not serious, Matta said, and he should be fine for the team’s season-opening game one week later against Delaware State.
“He’s making great progress,” he said. “Dallas has probably done the best job I’ve ever seen of being injured and staying involved. He’s been tremendous from his cardio work to film sessions to weight room to shooting.”
The Buckeyes could have the services of sophomore forward Nikola Kecman. Although he has been suspended for the first 12 games of the season after a former club teammate in Serbia voided his amateur status, Kecman is eligible to play in exhibition games.
He has not missed a practice, but Matta said he is not sure if he will play Kecman against Walsh.
The game will not factor into OSU’s final results, but Lighty said he is hoping to see the Buckeyes take a solid first step for the 2008-09 season.
“I think we have a lot of potential,” he said. “It’s just about us coming together and putting everything together. The quicker we do that, the better we will reach our potential. Once that happens, we’re going to be a real good basketball team.”
The first step is Thursday night.