Ohio State coach Thad Matta preaches team defense to his players every single day, a doctrine of success that has helped him lead the Buckeyes to 259 victories, a pair of Final Fours and four straight trips to the Sweet Sixteen.
OSU’s defensive prowess has shown through even more this season, as the Buckeyes rank second in the country in scoring defense at 53.8 points per game, just a touch behind Clemson (53.6).
“Coach Matta talks about it a lot, about every game, that we’re the best defense in the country,” junior guard Shannon Scott said Friday. “We really want to have that in our heads that nobody should be able to score on us. We want to make sure we’re the aggressor while we’re on offense and defense.”
The Buckeyes (9-0, 0-0) have recorded 70 steals so far this season, with Scott and senior guard Aaron Craft swiping 21 and 23, respectively. The team also has 48 blocks through nine games, half of which are from junior center Amir Williams. Consistency on defense all over the floor is leading to the success, Scott said.
“I feel like we’re all really connected right now,” Scott said.
The Buckeyes are set to take on the North Dakota State Bison (7-3, 0-0) Saturday, who are fresh off of a 73-69 win at Notre Dame.
“I think that was the best thing for us honestly,” Scott said, referring to the Bison’s win against the Irish. “We know they’re coming in as a great team, they just beat a great Notre Dame team. The fact that they’re coming in the way they are really puts us … backs us up on our toes where we can’t just go into the game expecting them to hand us the game because we’re Ohio State and they’re North Dakota State.”
Bison senior forward Marshall Bjorklund scored 26 points against the Irish, and is one of four players who averages double figures in scoring.
“(Bjorklund) shoots a very high percentage, so we have to try to get him outside the box, outside his comfort zone and not (let) him get the looks he’s been getting,” junior center Trey McDonald said Friday. “And also rely on some of the help from the guards with our pressure defense on the ball.”
Matta said Bjorklund is “right there” in the discussion of best post player his team has faced all season, but has been pleased with what McDonald and Williams have done so far on defense, particularly in the team’s win against Bryant.
“I’ve been very pleased, and I thought both guys Wednesday night had great awareness, great energy,” Matta said. “They made some plays out of their area, be it helping along the baseline or Amir blocking shots … That’s what we want those guys to do is to really plug the middle for us down there.”
McDonald said he and Williams see playing against Bjorklund as an opportunity.
“Although it is a team, it is team defense, we look at it as a personal challenge,” McDonald said. “Someone shooting that high of a field goal percentage and averaging that many points, we definitely look to Amir to try and shut them down and play our defensive game as we have been doing.”
Shutting down Bjorklund and the rest of the Bison will be a challenge for the Buckeye defense, and even though there is always room to improve, Matta likes where they’re at currently.
“I think that we’ve got some guys that are underrated defenders. I love what guys are bringing to the table,” Matta said. “Are we perfect? No, we’re not perfect. But we have guys dialed in and connected and tuned into scouting.”
Tipoff between the Buckeyes and Bison is set for 8:15 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.