Men's basketball: Buckeyes looking to rock the big boat

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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Amir Williams had misgivings when he heard the Ohio State men’s basketball team would be playing on the deck of an aircraft carrier.

“He’s afraid of water,” coach Thad Matta said.

Deshaun Thomas imagined something along the lines of the raised floor at Minnesota’s Williams Arena, which drops off to concrete several feet beyond the basket supports.

“If I dive on the (floor for the ball), I want to make sure I’m not going to dive in the water,” Thomas said. “I’m going to try to stay away from the edge.”

Their fears likely were abated yesterday when the No. 4 Buckeyes got their first look and had their first dry run on the deck of the USS Yorktown in Mount Pleasant, S.C., where they open the season tonight against Marquette in the Carrier Classic.

The Yorktown is a docked, decommissioned carrier that is the centerpiece of a museum at Patriots Point in Charleston Harbor.

Portable seating for an estimated 4,000 fans will line the court’s sidelines. One end of the court will be up against the ship’s bridge. The other end will have a wind screen separating the playing area from the rest of the ship’s runway.

“It’ll be a different ballgame,” Lenzelle Smith Jr. said. “You can’t control the wind … (but) I’m excited. I haven’t played outside in so long. As long as it’s warm, I’m good.”

The forecast is for a high temperature of 67 degrees this afternoon falling to a low of 38 overnight. Winds are predicted to be no more than 3 mph. There is zero chance of rain.

This is the second Carrier Classic, which benefits armed forces charities. Last year, Michigan State played North Carolina aboard the USS Carl Vinson in San Diego.

“I was worried about the wind, but there was nothing,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “Maybe it was the right day, but I think they also had it pretty well screened. I think the only issue I had was maybe the lights (were) a little low.

“I thought it was great. I wouldn’t sit there and worry about, ‘Am I going to fall off the boat?’ Toward the end of that game, I wanted to jump off the boat, but players aren’t going to fall off.”

Michigan State forward Adreian Payne said, “Once you start playing, you won’t even notice you’re on a boat.”

The Buckeyes likely will notice they’re in a game, though.

This is the first time in Matta’s nine seasons they have opened not only away from home but also against an opponent from a major conference.

“Throughout the course of the summer, I was asking myself, ‘Why did I sign up for this?’ ” Matta said. “Then I went to the luncheon in New York City, and they were talking about the (servicemen) who were going to be at the game, and it definitely brought home to me what this game is about.

“I’ve always said I think college is a time for kids to build memories and shape their character, and I hope this heightens our guys’ awareness of what the real world is all about as well as (being) an everlasting memory for them.”

Marquette reached the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 last season but lost two starters who were NBA draft picks. It probably didn’t lose its identity, though.

“They’re a physical team,” Thomas said. “They try to pressure you, try to make you turn the ball over, try to make you panic. They like to execute off energy plays, get steals and the 50-50 balls and dunk at the other end.”

Ohio State will have to perform much better than it did in its exhibition victory over Walsh last week.

“Just putting on an Ohio State jersey is not going to win us basketball games. That’s something we should have known but maybe we didn’t,” Aaron Craft said. “The days of open gym are over. It’s time to get down and play some basketball.”

bbaptist@dispatch.com

@BBaptistHoops

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