December 16, 2014

After a sloppy win featuring uncharacteristically weak defense, Ohio State needs a quick return to form before playing in one of the nation's more unwelcoming arenas.

Before the No. 12 Buckeyes face Roy Williams and North Carolina this weekend, they'll get a chance Wednesday night to tune up for that showdown against North Carolina A&T.

In coach Thad Matta's 500th career game Saturday, Ohio State (8-1) allowed a season high in points and limped to the finish in a 87-71 win over Morehead State. The Buckeyes led 47-28 at halftime but allowed the Eagles to shoot 62.5 percent after the break.

"We were sloppy," Matta said. "We weren't as sharp as we needed to be, really at both ends. We did some things that would lead one to believe we weren't as tuned in as we needed to be."

Prior to the victory, Ohio State held opponents to 35.9 percent shooting and ranked 18th in the country with 55.4 points allowed per game. Morehead State's overall percentage of 55.3 was the first time any opponent cracked 40 in the Buckeyes' last seven games.

Despite the defensive lapse, however, they maintained some momentum on offense. Ohio State is averaging more points (82.8) against nonconference foes than it has over the last 19 seasons - a dramatic improvement over last season's 73.7 outside of Big Ten play.

The Buckeyes have topped 85 points five times already after doing it three times through all of 2013-14.

"It's come together pretty well," Matta said of his roster. "You always worry about the dynamics of your team, not only on the court, but in the locker room. From day one, we've had a very good blend in terms of guys getting along.

"I've been very, very pleased with the older guys in terms of bringing the younger guys along."

Freshman D'Angelo Russell has been key to the success, leading Ohio State with 17.7 points per game. Senior Shannon Scott has anchored the Buckeyes in nearly every other category, ranking among the national leaders with 7.3 assists and 2.6 steals per game.

North Carolina A&T (1-10) poses little threat to the Buckeyes, losing 10 straight games since beating Division-III Greensboro in its season opener. The Aggies have topped 60 points only once during the losing streak, shooting 37.9 percent in that span.

They are one of fewer than 25 teams yet to earn a D-I victory.

"I've never been through anything like this before - with guards who are so inexperienced," coach Cy Alexander said prior to an 85-48 loss to Old Dominion on Sunday. "But I believe it is going to build character in our players for the stretch run, and it is definitely going to make me tougher as a coach."

Ohio State has won both of its meetings with North Carolina A&T, most recently beating the Aggies 102-61 in Columbus on Nov. 12, 2010. Another victory will give the Buckeyes a four-game winning streak ahead of Saturday's matchup with North Carolina at the United Center in Chicago.

"We want to play as well as we can possibly play," Matta said. "Coming off of Saturday night's game, the debriefing was kind of long in terms of what we didn't do well, both offensively and defensively. I want to see those things get corrected."

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