Basketball: Bobcats looking for upset against Buckeyes

Bean Willis and fellow point guard Stevie Taylor are tasked with guarding Ohio State star Aaron Craft. (Nicholas Horsley)

Bean Willis and fellow point guard Stevie Taylor are tasked with guarding Ohio State star Aaron Craft. (Nicholas Horsley)

They are only entering game No. 2 of the 2013-2014 season, but the Ohio men’s basketball team is preparing for the toughest test they might face all season.

The Ohio Bobcats (1-0) will be hoping to earn one of the program’s most notable victories when they travel to Columbus, Ohio, to take on No. 10 Ohio State (1-0) on Tuesday at 8 p.m. at Value City Arena.

In Saturday’s season-opening victory against Northern Iowa, the Bobcats were led by junior forward Maurice Ndour and senior guard Nick Kellogg, who combined to score 36 points and grab 10 rebounds.

The ‘Cats will be going into a tough environment for their first road test of the season, but with the amount of support the Bobcats received in their first game, Ohio head coach Jim Christian isn’t too worried about Ohio State’s crowd.

“We had a pretty good environment for our first home game,” Christian said. “Some guys are playing at home, and we have an opportunity to go out there and compete and get better as a team.”

Much of the talk this week has involved Ohio State star point guard Aaron Craft. The senior averaged 10 points per game, 4.6 assists per game and 2.1 steals per game last season for the Buckeyes. Christian sees Craft as one of the best defensive players in college basketball.

“He is a good defensive player period,” Christian said. “He has a great nose for the ball and is a winner in college basketball.”

Junior point guard Stevie Taylor, who scored 10 points and recorded eight assists in Saturday’s victory, will be responsible for slowing down Craft. Taylor said he has known Craft for a long time, and he plans on using that to his advantage.

“He knows my game, and I know his game,” Taylor said. “He plays hard and is a tough player, so I’ll have to raise my game to compete with him during the game.”

For Taylor, Jon Smith and Kellogg, this will be a homecoming of sorts because the trio are from the Columbus area. Even though they are coming home and playing in front of their friends and family, Kellogg insists that this is just another game on the schedule.

“This is going to be an exciting game,” Kellogg said. “We are preparing the same way we would for any other game, and the guys are focused and ready to go.”

Jim Christian’s squad was able to shoot 51.9 percent (27-of-52) from the floor in their game against Northern Iowa on Saturday. Taylor thinks the reason for the efficient offensive execution comes from the increased exposure to Christian’s philosophy.

“We played hard, and that comes from Coach Christian,” Taylor said. “We are able to implement his offense into the game, which gives everyone the freedom to do what they want.”

The Buckeyes opened their season with an 89-50 rout of Morgan State on Nov. 9 in Columbus. Junior LaQuinton Ross, who hit the game-winner to beat Arizona in last season’s Sweet 16 matchup, posted a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds.

Columbus native Jon Smith will be playing against his hometown team Tuesday night.

Columbus native Jon Smith will be playing against his hometown team Tuesday night. (Nicholas Horsley)

Besides Ross and Craft, the Bobcats will need to keep a close eye on junior guard Shannon Scott and center Amir Williams, who Christian said is one of the best shot blockers in the nation.

Ohio State holds a 15-4 advantage in the all-time series between the schools. The last time these two programs faced off against each other was in the 1994-1995 season, when the Bobcats upended the Buckeyes 78-67 in the preseason NIT at St. John Arena behind a 26-point, 15-rebound display from Gary Trent.

Two of Ohio’s 11 wins all-time against top-25 opponents have come against Ohio State.

If the Bobcats are able to pull off the upset Tuesday night, Kellogg thinks the win will add to Ohio’s confidence.

“It would be a good win for us, especially being on the road and them being ranked,” Kellogg said. “We are just trying to compete, play hard and play together.”

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