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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Four days removed from their win over Michigan State, the Ohio State men's basketball team (20-7, 10-5) will return to action on Thursday night, when they hit the road for a 7 p.m. tipoff at Northwestern (13-15, 4-11). On Wednesday, Thad Matta and members of his No. 16-ranked team met with the media to help preview the Buckeyes' upcoming battle with the Wildcats.
Race wide open
With No. 1 Indiana's loss to Minnesota last night, OSU suddenly finds itself just two games back of first place in the Big Ten conference, with three games- including one against the Hoosiers- remaining on the schedule. Coaching a team that suffered three defeats in four games earlier this month, Matta couldn't ask for much more, but also knew that this is what he should've expected heading into Big Ten play.
"It's kind of just life in the Big Ten," Matta said. "You're in a great league and you're attempting to bring it every single night, but everybody forgets that the other team is bringing it too. That makes it extremely challenging. Every time you take the floor in this league, there's a lot at stake."
Forward Sam Thompson said that he never felt like the Buckeyes were out of contention for a fourth-consecutive regular season conference championship, but is also aware of just how challenging the depth of this league can make it on a nightly basis.
"Everyone in this league knows how good of a league it is. Minnesota and Illinois are unranked right now, but they were in the top-10 of the country at one point in the season," Thompson said. "It's a great league. The race is never over. We know that, they know that, and every team in the Big Ten knows that."
Containing the Cats
It was just two weeks ago that OSU first faced Northwestern this season in a game that saw the Wildcats hold a lead over the Buckeyes with five minutes remaining in the game, before Ohio State pulled away with a win thanks to a game-closing 12-2 run. Thompson said that some signs of defensive problems were evident for the Buckeyes in that game, which was a precursor to OSU's 71-49 loss to Wisconsin just three days later.
"Give Northwestern credit because they really ran their offense, they made shots, they executed and for probably 32 minutes, they really controlled that basketball game," Thompson said. "Give them credit for everything that they did, but I think a lot of that was a lack of defensive intensity and a lack of defensive focus on our part."
Due to the Wildcats' unique Princeton-style offense, Matta is thankful to be playing Northwestern twice in such a relatively short timespan, as the lessons that the Buckeyes learned from their first go-round with Bill Carmody's squad should still be fresh in their minds.
"That's one of the greatest challenges of coaching in this league, is you've got so many contrasting styles each night you take the floor," Matta said. "That's why you've got to be really good at what you do, in terms of your offense, defense, and I've learned that over time here: get as good as you can at what you can control."
A native of Chicago, Thompson is excited to be making the trip back home, where he will have several friends and family in attendance for tonight's game. While one would assume that this would excite the sophomore forward, Thompson described his annual homecoming as "weird."
"We fly into the airport and drive through downtown Chicago. I drive past things I've seen for the past 20 years and I can't go home," Thompson said. "It's definitely fun to go home, play in front of my family, play in front of my friends and get a road win."
The fanfare that Thompson will receive tonight, however, will likely pale in comparison to the roars that freshman guard Amedeo Della Valle has heard lately from the home crowds at OSU games. A native of Alba, Italy, the Buckeyes' lone freshman enjoys interacting with the fans, and views himself as somewhat of a people's champion in Columbus.
"I actually like it a lot," Della Valle said. "I can also see myself as a regular student, so maybe other students see themselves as me, because maybe I don't look like a basketball. So they really can tell that (I'm) working really hard and trying to be successful."
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