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Buckeyes to tip off NCAA Tournament close to home

Andy Gottesman / Multimedia Editor

Despite finding itself in what many agree to be the NCAA Tournament’s toughest region, the Ohio State men’s basketball team might have one advantage in this year’s postseason: Cleveland.

The Buckeyes find themselves playing the first two rounds of March just 141 miles north of campus, at the Quicken Loans Arena. Considering six of the team’s top seven contributors hail from Ohio, and the lone outlier, freshman forward Deshaun Thomas, is from neighboring Indiana, the advantage of playing in Cleveland is magnified for OSU.

“We are kind of close to home so we should have a nice home crowd,” junior guard William Buford said. “We are just going to take it one game at a time and hopefully we have a … crowd to feed off of.”

The No.1-seeded Buckeyes expect to have more supporters than any other squad they face in their home state. No. 8 seed George Mason, which would have to defeat No. 9 Villanova to face OSU in the second round, is OSU’s potential opponent closest to Cleveland. The Patriots’ campus is 375 miles away.

OSU plans to take advantage of some of its players’ proximity to the arena this week.

“We know dinner is on (fifth-year senior forward) David Lighty, so he’s going to take us by his house,” freshman forward Jared Sullinger said.

Lighty played high school basketball at Villa Angela-St. Joseph just more than 11 miles from the location of Friday’s game. On average, OSU starters attended high schools just 81.4 miles from Quicken Loans Arena.

Despite the closeness to both OSU and many players’ hometowns, the Buckeyes know nothing will be given to them.

“Just because we are playing in our home state, doesn’t guarantee anything,” said OSU senior guard Jon Diebler, an Upper Sandusky graduate.

Four of the team’s starters — Diebler, Lighty, Buford and senior center Dallas Lauderdale — participated in the 2009 NCAA Tournament. That year, the No. 8-seeded Buckeyes lost, 74-72, in the first round to No. 9 seed Siena in Dayton, Ohio.

That Siena, located in Loudonville, N.Y., had to travel more than 600 miles more than OSU for the game, indicates that location might not be everything.

“We just know we got to bring it every night,” Buford said. “There are some real good teams in our bracket.”

The Buckeyes would not face a team ranked in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll of the regular season until they leave the confines of their home state. OSU could face No. 11 Kentucky or No. 22 West Virginia in the tournament’s third round in Newark, N.J.

Buford pointed to one aspect of playing in Ohio that he did not care for.

“I honestly wanted to go somewhere kind of hot, but yeah, we’re going to make it down there,” the guard said, referencing Houston, the location of the Final Four.

Regardless of location, coach Thad Matta emphasized this time of year is different from anything this season’s team has faced.

“We’ve had an incredible ride to this point,” he said, “and the reality is, if you have a game where you don’t play well, the season is over.”

Matta and his team will look to continue that ride at 4:40 p.m. Friday against Texas-San Antonio.

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