As long as Ohio State continues to focus on how it plays, not who it plays, its strong start is likely to continue.
The No. 17 Buckeyes look to remain undefeated when they host Jacksonville on Wednesday night.
After successfully making it through a grueling stretch against then-No. 21 Miami, then-No. 7 Notre Dame and Butler, Ohio State (6-0) now continues its six-game homestand against some very beatable competition. After Jacksonville (2-5), the Buckeyes face Iona and UNC-Asheville before a visit from West Virginia on Dec. 27.
“Every time we go out on the court, teams will give us their best punch,” Buckeyes forward Dallas Lauderdale said. “We don’t focus on who were playing because any team wants to come in here and knock us off. We just try to focus on our game plan, not on who we are playing.”
Ohio State felt it took that approach in a 54-51 win over Butler on Saturday, though it wasn’t always easy against coach Thad Matta’s alma mater and first coaching stop. The Buckeyes built a 13-point lead in the second half, then missed seven of their next eight shots. They held on despite making just one field goal in the final 12 minutes.
“I told our guys we beat an NCAA Tournament team, but we still need to make strides,” said Matta, whose team has won 11 straight games dating to last season’s run toward an NIT title. “There are always areas where we can improve.”
Sophomore guard Evan Turner scored 14 points, David Lighty added 10 and Lauderdale had nine points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots for Ohio State, which overcame shooting 40.5 percent from the field and a 16-for-28 effort from the free-throw line.
Turner is averaging a team-leading 16.2 points per game on the season, including 19.3 points on 54.0 percent shooting in his last four contests. He also leads the Buckeyes with a 7.3 rebounding average.
Ohio State now looks to win its 43rd straight home game versus unranked, non-conference opponents. The Buckeyes won 85-74 at Jacksonville on Dec. 19, 1986, in the only previous meeting between these schools.
“Ohio State is an extremely good basketball team and we know that they are going to be ready to play,” Jacksonville coach Cliff Warren said.
After opening the season with five straight losses, Jacksonville has begun Atlantic Sun Conference play with consecutive wins. The Dolphins have been idle since Dec. 6, when they shot 51.6 percent from the field during an 83-67 victory over Lipscomb.
Ben Smith scored 18 points and five assists for Jacksonville, which placed four starters in double figures while posting a season high for points.
“It was a tremendous game and a complete team effort,” said Warren, whose team is averaging only 68.3 points per contest.
The 5-foot-10 Smith is averaging 18.4 points on the season and 20.6 in his last five games.
Jacksonville is 0-9 versus top 25 opponents since the start of the 1997-98 season. The Dolphins lost 71-62 at then-No. 22 Georgetown on Nov. 17.