Bobcats finally get shot at Buckeyes

Nick Kellogg said he'll try to treat it like any other game.

Good luck explaining that to the Bobcat faithful. Ohio fans have been waiting 20 years for this one.

After a two decade hiatus, Ohio University and Ohio State University will finally meet once again on the hardwood. The Bobcats (1-0) visit Value City Arena Tuesday night to face to face the No. 10 (Associated Press) Buckeyes (1-0).

The last time these two teams met Gary Trent led the Bobcats to a 74-67 win at St. John Arena. Trent piled up 26 points and 15 rebounds as Ohio beat the Buckeyes in the preseason National Invitational Tournament. Current OSU assistant coach Jeff Boals was on that Bobcat roster, and added 14 points and eight rebounds that night.

And while the two programs don't meet often, they're still familiar foes. Current Ohio head coach Jim Christian served on the same Miami (Ohio) coaching staff with OSU's Thad Matta during that same 1994-95 season. Three Columbus area players — Kellogg, point guard Stevie Taylor (Gahanna) and forward Jon Smith (Grove City) — play big roles for the Bobcats.

"It's the next game on our schedule so it's the most important game," said Kellogg, whose father Clark remains one of the best players in OSU history. "The fact that it's Ohio State I guess adds a little more excitement to it being that we're from Columbus.

"At the end of the day it's 40 minutes, two hoops. We're just trying to compete, play hard, play together and come out on top."

The Buckeyes return four starters from a team that won 29 games and reached the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Tournament last March. Ohio State, 39-1 in non-conference home games in the last five years, will play just one true road game during the non-conference portion of its schedule — Saturday at Marquette. The game is a 'guarantee' game with OSU paying the Bobcats $90,000 for a one-shot road trip to Columbus.

That's fine with Christian. He wanted quality opponents, and some true road games, to test his club early. Win or lose, the Bobcats will know a lot more about their team afterward.

"They're opportunities to learn and grow. I think that's what the beauty of playing great teams early in the year is," Christian said. "Whatever happens, you're going to learn from it.

"Whether we play them really well, or we don't, we're going to come back and learn."

To win, Ohio will have to find a way to execute against the Buckeyes' stout defense. As usual, that effort will be headed up by senior point Aaron Craft — OSU's career leader in steals and as fine an on-ball defender as you'll find in the college game. The Buckeyes held opponents to less than 40 percent shooting a year ago, for example.

"He's a good defensive player period. You could play him at the 4 and he'd be a good defensive player," Christian said. "He's just a guy who has a great nose for the ball and he's tough.

"Everything you'd want, he's a winner. He's proven it every day he's out there. He's probably, right now, the best winner in college basketball."

Taylor knows full well what to expect. He admitted there's a little something extra in this match up.

"We're all from right down the street, we've been going to Ohio State games since we were younger. It's a big game. We circled this at the beginning of the season," Taylor said.

"And I've known Craft my whole life," he added. "We've been playing against each other since we were young. I know his game. He knows my game. I have to raise my game to compete with him. If I do that, I think we'll be fine."

Ohio shot 51.9 percent from the field and hit 11 3-pointers in a season-opening win against Northern Iowa. But given the kind of defense the Buckeyes can bring — Christian called OSU's perimeter defense "probably the best in the country" — execution will be especially important.

OSU locked up 55 rebounds in an 89-50 win over Morgan State in its opener. Offensive execution, defense and rebounding will have to be top notch if the Bobcats want to spring a big road upset.

"We have to execute. If we execute and get the ball to where we need to get it, we'll have opportunities to score," Christian said. "And any time you go on the road you have to make shots."