Columbus, OH (Sports Network) - The seventh-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes continue with their season-long, eight-game homestand, as they play host to the Bulldogs of UNC Asheville on Saturday afternoon.
UNC Asheville opened the season with a 71-61 win over Western Carolina, but then proceeded to lose its next six games. The Bulldogs have since won two-in- a-row by topping the likes of Montreat (85-51) and Lenoir-Rhyne (66-55). Despite the modest two-game win streak, UNCA is a considerable underdog in this contest. The Bulldogs are hoping these tough non-league games will better prepare them for the rigors of Big South Conference play, which for them, begins at home versus Liberty on Jan. 5, 2013.
Ohio State is an impressive 7-1 on the season, and the team has won three straight since suffering its lone setback at Duke (73-68) on Nov. 28. The Buckeyes nearly doubled-up visiting Savannah State on Wednesday night, whipping the Tigers in an 85-45 final. OSU's average margin of victory during its current win streak is nearly 34 points per game, although the level of competition has been questionable for sure (Savannah State, Long Beach State, Northern Kentucky). The Buckeyes play host to No. 9 Kansas next Saturday, and they will open Big Ten Conference action versus Nebraska on Jan. 2, 2013.
Ohio State has never lost in four previous matchups with UNC Asheville, with the most recent meeting taking place in Columbus in 2010 (96-49).
UNC Asheville features a standout performer in Jeremy Atkinson, a 53.2 percent shooter who leads the team in both scoring (18.1 ppg) and rebounding (7.9 rpg). Keith Hornsby (12.1 ppg, 3.1 apg) and Trent Meyer (11.6 ppg, 3.9 apg) are the only other double-digit scorers for a club that averages 70.0 ppg behind typical shooting outputs of 44.7 percent overall, which includes a 30.6 percent effort from 3-point range. Defensively, the Bulldogs permit an average of 68.7 ppg, with foes connecting on 43.2 percent of their total shots, which includes a 35.8 percent showing from beyond the arc. Hornsby was high man for UNCA in the recent win over Lenoir-Rhyne, netting 21 points in draining 4-of-6 3-point attempts, while Atkinson added 12 points and eight rebounds, and D.J. Cunningham chipped in with 10 points and seven boards in 15 minutes of action off the bench. The team as a whole shot 52.1 percent from the field, while holding its overmatched opponent to 35.4 percent.
Ohio State has its own star in Deshaun Thomas, who averages 20.8 points and 6.3 caroms per contest, while shooting 48.4 percent from the field and converting 22-of-50 3-point tries (.440). Lenzelle Smith, Jr. is netting 10.6 ppg behind a 16-of-31 effort from long range, and LaQuinton Ross tacks on 10.6 ppg despite coming off the bench in all eight games. Aaron Craft tallies 9.6 ppg, but he is more interested in getting his teammates in on the action as he has 35 assists, just one off the team-leading pace set by another key reserve, Shannon Scott. OSU is knocking down 46.3 percent of its field goal attempts, which includes a 40.6 percent effort from downtown, all while holding the opposition to a meager 55.6 ppg on typical shooting outputs of .363 overall and .294 from 3-point land. The Buckeyes own a whopping +23.3 scoring margin, as well as significant advantages in both rebounding (+9.3) and turnovers (+4.3). Thomas was his usual self in the recent rout of Savannah State, knocking down four treys en route to 22 points. Ross added 13, Scott tallied a dozen and Evan Ravenel contributed 11 for OSU, which made good on 47.5 percent of its total shots, including a 10-of-19 effort from behind the arc, all while limiting the Tigers to 37.0 percent field goal efficiency, which featured a dreadful 1-of-10 effort from 3-point range. Savannah State committed 20 turnovers and was manhandled on the glass (48-21).