Ohio State has won games when it has relied heavily on the play of center Jared Sullinger in the post, and won others thanks to the strong perimeter shooting of guard Jon Diebler. Coach Thad Matta knows to be a successful team, and to beat a good opponent like South Carolina, his squad needs both parts of the offense clicking simultaneously.
The No. 2 Buckeyes hope to get this all-around effort and open with 10 straight victories for the first time in five years Saturday when they host a Gamecocks team trying to win its seventh in a row.
Ohio State (9-0) has outscored its three opponents this month by an average of 21.3 points, but these victories have come over IUPUI, Western Carolina and Florida Gulf Coast. In the win over IUPUI, Sullinger carried the Buckeyes, scoring a freshman school-record 40 points.
The 6-foot-9 Sullinger, who is averaging a team-high 17.2 points, wasn’t needed as much Wednesday against Florida Gulf Coast, as Diebler matched an Ohio State record with nine 3-pointers and scored a career-high 29 points in an 83-55 victory.
The Buckeyes are 9-0 for the second time in three seasons, and haven’t started 10-0 since the 2005-06 team opened with 11 consecutive victories.
Diebler, who tied the Ohio State mark previously held by Jay Burson, has made a school-best 291 shots from behind the arc. The Buckeyes, winners of 17 straight home games over non-conference opponents, are shooting 46.3 percent from 3-point range this month (25 of 54), but Matta doesn’t want his team to just rely on its perimeter offense.
“Eventually we’re going to have to put it together,” Matta said. “That’s a thing we’re still striving for. That’s kind of how we preach to our team, that we want to be able to strike inside and outside.”
Matta’s offense expects to be tested against a South Carolina team that has limited opponents to an average of 58.0 points on 37.2 percent shooting in three games this month. The Gamecocks (7-1), led by 6-foot-9 senior forward Sam Muldrow and 6-foot-6 junior forward Malik Cooke, are also very strong in the paint, averaging 43.3 rebounds, sixth-best in the nation.
After holding Clemson to 3 of 16 shooting from 3-point range in a 64-60 win Dec. 5, South Carolina limited Wofford to 32.7 percent shooting in last Saturday’s 64-53 victory. Muldrow finished with 14 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks, while freshman Bruce Ellington added a team-high 18 points.
“We got some big stops and made some big plays that we needed,” Gamecocks coach Darrin Horn said. “We’re starting to see some growth and maturity in this team and we’ve got a lot of room to get better as well.
South Carolina has won six straight since Nov. 16, when it suffered an 82-73 loss at Michigan State, the only team picked to finish ahead of Ohio State in the Big Ten.
The Buckeyes and Gamecocks, who are opening a home-and-home series with a game in South Carolina scheduled next year, haven’t met since Ohio State’s 59-46 victory in 1989. The only other meeting came the previous year, when the Gamecocks won 74-68 at home.