The No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes make just their second road trip of the season, heading south to Columbia to take on the South Carolina Gamecocks (4-5) of the SEC. The Buckeyes haven’t played particularly well in their last three outings, but have gone 2-1 in that span, playing two of those three games without Jared Sullinger. Sully didn’t start in the most recent one, but came off the bench to score 12 points and grab 10 rebounds. The Buckeyes have turned the ball over 28 times in the past two games, but have forced 43 opponent’s turnovers in that span to somewhat mitigate their sloppy play. More troubling is the 61-52 rebound discrepancy over that same span, including a -8 rebounding margin at home Wednesday night against South Carolina-Upstate. Thad Matta’s bunch will look to rebound, literally, and take better care of the basketball against the Gamecocks. The game is at noon on ESPN.
The Buckeyes (9-1) are 2-1 in the all-time series, including last season’s 79-57 blowout at The Schott. The Gamecocks are 1-0 on their home court in the series, winning 74-68 in the first ever meeting back in December of 1988. Last season, Sully came out in beast mode, scoring 30 points and ripping down 19 rebounds in Hulk fashion. William Buford (12) and Jon Diebler (11) also reached doubles, but it was basically the Sullinger show. Sam Muldrow (14) and Malik Cooke (13) reached double figures for South Carolina. Muldrow is gone, but Cooke (#15), a 6-6, 215-pound redshirt senior forward, returns and leads the Gamecocks with 12.2 points per game. His 4.9 rebounds per game is good for third on the squad.
Bruce Ellington (#23), a 5-9 sophomore wide receiver on the football team, is the only other Gamecock averaging double figures, at 10 points per game. Ellington has just worked his way into hoops shape, playing his third game earlier this week in a win against Presbyterian, 66-58. Ellington poured in 15 points off the bench in that game. He was a starter in last year’s game in Columbus, and may be returning to the starting lineup if he continues to contribute as he did Tuesday. Junior small forward Lakeem Jackson (#30) also returns from last year’s starters. The 6-5 Jackson is hitting 62.5% of his shots, but only averages 5.2 points, though he leads the team with 20 assists. Freshman Anthony Gill (#13) is a 6-8 wide body, averaging 8.6 points and leading South Carolina with 5.3 rebounds per outing. He can also hit the trey if left alone, hitting four of his five attempts this season. Sophomore forward Damontre Harris (#24) joins Gill and Cooke as the only other Gamecock to start all nine games this season. At 6-9 and 226 pounds, Harris is an imposing post presence, averaging six points and 4.8 rebounds.
Sophomore guard Eric Smith (#5) and freshman guard Damien Leonard (#32) each have started at least six games. Smith (7.8 ppg) and Leonard (6.4 ppg) score about the same, but Smith’s got 19 assists and 17 turnovers on the season whereas Leonard’s assist-to-turnover ratio is abysmal (4 assists, 15 turnovers). Both have hit 14 three-pointers this season, but Smith’s have come on 30 attempts (46.7%) to Leonard’s 53 (26.4%). If you’re picking your poison, make the freshman Leonard beat you. The Gamecocks have nine players averaging at least 18 minutes per game, so they make the most of their depth. Cooke is their best all-around player so far this season.
South Carolina has won two straight games but is just 3-4 at home. The three wins were over Presbyterian, Western Carolina and Mississippi Valley State. The home losses were to North Carolina, Tennessee State, USC and Providence. The Gamecocks also lost at Elon by a point and beat Clemson on the road by three in a rivalry game. The Buckeyes will be tested in this game, but any kind of concerted effort should produce a victory, provided the rebounding improves from the last two games and the turnovers are reduced. It will be Ohio State’s last road game until the New Year’s Eve game in Bloomington against the suddenly-spunky Hoosiers squad that took down Kentucky on the game’s final shot.
Notes: A win would give Thad Matta 200 as Ohio State’s head coach and make him the third OSU coach to record 200 wins (Fred Taylor, Harold G. Olsen)…William Buford needs 11 points to pass Robin Freeman for 10th on the all-time OSU scoring list…Mike Patrick and Len Elmore will be on the call for ESPN…Ohio State is 32-27 all-time against teams from the SEC.