After consecutive road wins over ranked opponents last week, Ohio State broke into the Top 25 for the first time since the end of a memorable 2006-07 season.
While their next opponent isn’t ranked, the No. 21 Buckeyes could still be in for another tough game when they host undefeated Butler on Saturday.
Ohio State (5-0) was never ranked last season, having lost the top four scorers from a team that went 35-4 and lost to Florida in the 2007 national championship game. The Buckeyes, though, did win their final five games last season to capture the NIT championship, and they enter Saturday with the nation’s longest active winning streak.
Looking to start 6-0 for the second time in three years, Ohio State is coming off back-to-back victories over Top 25 teams. After beating then-No. 21 Miami 73-68 on Dec. 2, it defeated a previously seventh-ranked Notre Dame team 67-62 in the Hartford Hall of Fame Showcase in Indianapolis last Saturday.
“Getting the win at Miami, the win in Indianapolis against Notre Dame, were great confidence builders for this young basketball team,” coach Thad Matta said.
Evan Turner had a career-high 28 points and 10 rebounds against the Irish. He was 11-of-16 from the field and also had five assists and two steals, making up for six turnovers.
“I’ve been driving (to the basket) ever since I was a kid,” he said. “It’s not my first rodeo.”
The sophomore is leading the Buckeyes with 16.6 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, and he’s one of three underclassmen in Ohio State’s starting lineup. Sophomore Jon Diebler is second in scoring, averaging 10.6 points.
“Our young guys are coming into their own,” Matta said. “We know it’s going to be a process.”
Matta played three seasons for Butler and began his head coaching career there in 2000-01, leading the Bulldogs to a 24-8 record and the second round of the NCAA tournament. He left at the end of that season and would spend three years at Xavier before taking over the Buckeyes in 2004.
Matta returned to Hinkle Fieldhouse for the first time as an opposing coach last season, but that was when the Bulldogs were the ranked team, coming away with a 65-46 victory.
“It does mean a lot,” Matta said of facing the team he used to coach and play for. “We know we have a great challenge and I think our guys look forward to it.”
Since Matta left, the Bulldogs have been able to build on the success. They went 30-4 last season and are off to a second straight 8-0 start. However, this game is by far their toughest test to date, having yet to face a ranked opponent and only one team from a major conference.
This game is the fourth in a row on the road for Butler, which is coming off an 87-75 win over Bradley on Wednesday.
Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack each scored 20 points and the team combined to shoot a season-high 53.7 percent from the field while connecting on 13 3-pointers.
“I thought our offense tonight was as good as it’s been,” coach Brad Stevens said.
Ohio State has won 30 of 39 meetings against Butler, including 19 of the 21 matchups in Columbus. The Buckeyes have won 11 straight home games against the Bulldogs since Butler won 77-73 in overtime in 1957.