New York, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - The third-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes put their perfect record on the line once more, as they tangle with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Gotham Classic Showcase Game at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.
Notre Dame hasn't quite had the success its counterpart in this contest has, but the team is still off to a solid start after winning eight of its first 11 games. Unfortunately, with two of their three losses coming against teams (Indiana State, North Dakota State) you would think the Irish would beat the majority of the time, the jury is out as to just how good they are at this point. A 79-72 win over intrastate rival Indiana last Saturday in Indianapolis was impressive, but to prove their naysayers wrong, the Irish are going to have to beat a top-notch opponent soon. They open their first ACC slate two weeks from today at home versus Duke.
Ohio State has pushed aside all comers thus far, streaking out to an 11-0 start to give it 13 seasons all-time in which it has won 10 or more consecutive games. It's the fifth time since 2006. The Buckeyes have a win over Marquette as well as a triumph over Maryland, but that's pretty much it in terms of notable victories. Still, the team is among the national leaders in several statistical categories, and is gearing up for what promises to be another challenging Big Ten Conference slate, which gets underway at Purdue on New Year's Eve.
Ohio State owns a 7-4 lead in the all-time series with Notre Dame, and the Buckeyes have won four of the last five meetings, the most recent of which being a 67-62 decision over the seventh-ranked Irish in Indianapolis on Dec. 6, 2008.
With a scoring average of 81.2 ppg, and shooting percentages of .478 overall, .396 from 3-point range, and .774 from the free-throw line, Notre Dame is one of the more potent offensive teams in the country. The Fighting Irish boast four double-digit scorers, led by Jerian Grant and his 19.1 ppg. Grant is off to sensational start, not only scoring-wise, but also in terms of getting his teammates involved in the action with 6.4 apg. Grant, who also comes up with two steals per game, is a 50.8 percent shooter, who nails 40.4 percent of his treys and converts a 88.4 percent (61-of-69) of his foul shots. Garrick Sherman, a 54.1 percent shooter, is the big man for the Irish, and he nets 14.3 ppg while pacing the team with 7.5 rpg. Pat Connaughton (13.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg) helps on the glass, and is also active at the offensive end, while Eric Atkins (11.9 ppg, 4.5 apg) rounds out the club's most productive players.
Grant hit all 11 of his free throws to tally 23 points, and he dished out nine assists in leading Notre Dame to a seven-point win over Indiana last weekend. Sherman finished with 16 points and six rebounds, while Connaughton pitched in with 14 and nine boards. The Irish claimed a 23-13 edge in points from the charity stripe, and were fortunate to shoot 51.5 percent from the field in the opening half as they cooled off considerably in the second at just 38.1 percent. The same applied to the Hoosiers who went from 50 percent before intermission to 32.3 percent after.
Ohio State's success this season is directly tied to its stifling defensive effort, as foes are allowed just 55.5 ppg behind typical shooting efforts of .373 overall and .247 from 3-point land. The Buckeyes also use positive differentials in both rebounding (+3.4) and turnovers (+4.5) to keep the opposition at bay. Thad Matta's club isn't a one-trick pony though, as four double-digit scorers help generate 76.2 ppg. Balance is the key as Lenzelle Smith, Jr. sits atop the list at 13.5 ppg, and Aaron Craft is fourth at 10.0 ppg to go along with 4.8 apg. LaQuinton Ross (12.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg) and Amir Williams (10.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 2.2 bpg) provide additional support, and it was Ross who spearheaded OSU's effort in the 76-64 win over visiting Delaware earlier this week.
In all, five Buckeyes reached double figures in the win over the Blue Hens, with Williams logging a double-double consisting of 11 points and 12 rebounds. Ohio State shot just 40.7 percent from the floor, but used a 22-7 edge in points from the foul line coupled with a resounding 46-30 rebounding advantage to keep its undefeated record intact.