COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP)—It was one thing to lose at home to West Virginia last year. What really stunned the Ohio State Buckeyes was the history-making margin.
When No. 21 Ohio State (14-5) plays at No. 11 West Virginia (14-3) on Saturday, last year’s game will still be fresh on the minds of both teams.
“The key thing was they punked us,” Ohio State point guard Evan Turner said Friday. “It didn’t bother me how they executed or anything like that. I just think they just gave us a good butt-whipping.”
The Buckeyes were 9-0 and ranked 15th when they hosted the unranked Mountaineers on Dec. 27, 2008. It was the first big test for Ohio State since losing its most experienced player, David Lighty, to a broken foot that would keep him out all season.
The Mountaineers had little sympathy, blowing open a relatively close game at the half by shooting 55 percent from the field before coasting to a 76-48 victory. They dominated in almost every facet as coach Bob Huggins—a former Ohio State assistant—was triumphant in his return to Columbus, his team enforcing its will against the befuddled Buckeyes.
How lopsided was it? It was Ohio State’s biggest home loss in 11-year-old Value City Arena and the Buckeyes’ largest margin of defeat ever at home against an unranked opponent.
Asked if he thought the Buckeyes were relishing the rematch, Huggins said, “I’m sure they are. Who wouldn’t? That’s human nature.”
Ohio State coach Thad Matta—whose Xavier teams squared off with Huggins’ Cincinnati squads in some epic crosstown battles before he came to Columbus— tried to downplay the idea that the Buckeyes will be motivated by the magnitude of last year’s beatdown.
But his players clearly haven’t forgotten.
“I don’t really know what went wrong,” said Lighty, who watched the onslaught from the bench. “They did everything right and we really didn’t in that game. It’s in the back of our minds, and it’s always there to kind of motivate us to work hard. We get to redeem ourselves.”
The Mountaineers anticipate as much.
“I expect that to be on their minds, especially coming into our place,” forward Devin Ebanks said. “They’ll have a little bit of revenge on their mind.”
It just increases the temperature of the game that many of the principals are back for this one. Da’Sean Butler had 16 points, Darryl Bryant 11 and Ebanks 10 for the Mountaineers, while almost everyone on Ohio State’s roster is around for the return engagement.
What bothers the Buckeyes the most might be that they’re not sure exactly how the game got so far out of hand.
“Last year was just crazy,” said Turner, who had 10 points and 11 rebounds. “I’m still trying to figure out what happened. That’s one game that’s really been in the back of my head.”
Turner, who missed more than a month earlier this season with two broken bones in his lower back, was Butler’s teammate on the U.S. squad at the World University Games last summer. It goes without saying that the subject of that one-sided showdown came up.
“(Butler) talked about that a lot,” Turner said with a laugh. “We definitely want another opportunity. They’re definitely a good team. We just want to test ourselves once again.”
They couldn’t pick a much better time. The Buckeyes have won three in a row against top-tier Big Ten teams (then-No. 6 Purdue and No. 13 Wisconsin, along with Northwestern). Those three teams were a combined 41-8 when they took the floor.
West Virginia has won two of its last three, the only setback a 72-71 Big East home defeat to No. 5 Syracuse on Jan. 16.
The game takes on added importance because the teams’ lofty RPI numbers could loom large when NCAA bids—and seedings—come out in March.
It’s also the second and last matchup of a home-and-home series. Matta was asked if he was in favor of continuing the meetings.
“I don’t know,” he said Friday. Then he laughed and added, “We’ll see how tomorrow goes.”
AP Sports Writer John Raby in Charleston, W.Va., contributed to this report.