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November 11, 2013

Long time no see

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Jeff Boals seems to surely bleed scarlet and gray, but the blood that courses through his veins might carry with it a hint of green.

After all, the Ohio State assistant coach's roots lie entangled about an hour-and-a-half away at Ohio University, which happens to be his team's next adversary.

"I follow every game," he said of his alma mater.

Perhaps few, then, understand the sometimes-tumultuous relationship between the two state schools like Boals, who totaled 14 points and eight boards for the Bobcats in the last meeting between the two schools in 1994.

"The thing I remember the most is getting yelled at at halftime," he said of Ohio's 78-67 win against a Buckeyes squad that finished the season 6-22 under former coach Randy Ayers.

What might be the most pertinent memories, though, are the ones Boals has of being on the opposite end of the floor from Ohio State.

"I think playing on the other side, coaching on other side, it's a huge game," he said.

"And when I came in here I was an Ohio kid. Like everyone in Ohio, I wanted to come here (but) wasn't good enough to play at Ohio State."

Such a perception still seems to exist and probably hasn't been demystified considering the two programs haven't played in nearly two decades.

"It's another game on our schedule," Boals said. "Obviously, it's my alma mater but that's how we're looking at it."

For the Bobcats, though, it's their first crack at seemingly the state's most popular school -- the one that proudly, relentlessly and maybe even arrogantly prefaces its institution's name with three capitals letters.

With four players from the central Ohio metropolitan area -- perhaps most notably senior guard Nick Kellogg son of Ohio State legend and CBS sports broadcaster Clark Kellogg -- it's also the chance to upset the No. 10-ranked team in the nation.

"I think from an Ohio State standpoint, what I've come to realize in my four years -- starting my fifth year -- is that every game is a big game against Ohio State," Boals said.

"A lot of times, the team you scout is never the team you play. Especially the year we went 34-3, we got everyone's A-plus game every game. Every road trip the enthusiasm was up, the intensity, the crowds, the student sections."

Fortunately for Ohio State, Tuesday's contest will take place inside the confines of the Schottenstein Center, a place where Thad Matta's crew is 72-5 since the beginning of the 2009 season.

While the Buckeyes are almost certainly the favorites to win, it likely doesn't take much fuel away from the rare in-state tussle.

"Our guys are pretty focused and determined and when you have two seniors and an upper class team -- five juniors -- like we have, it should never overlook anyone, especially an in-state rival, an in-state opponent," Boals said.

"I know we haven't played since '94. Nowadays, with the AAU, every kid in America plays against each other in the summer time growing up, high school games. They're friends now and some of those guys have been over to our gym this summer playing so there's a familiarity on both hands."

The notion of mere familiarity might be somewhat of an understatement.

"You see each other a lot on the AAU circuit and things. We played a couple of open gyms when they're back in the summer and we're here When they came back a couple times this summer we got to play a little bit," said senior point guard Aaron Craft, who added members of the Bobcats are always welcome to scrap with them in their gym.

"They're great kids. Competitive," he said. "And they want to win just as much as we do."



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