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Published: Tuesday, 1/6/2009

Ohio State men's basketball trying to pick up pieces

ASSOCIATED PRESS

COLUMBUS - And things had been going so well for the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Since stringing together nine wins to open the season, about all they've gotten lately is bad news.

"I haven't heard a guy say, 'Poor us' or anything like that," coach Thad Matta said yesterday. "We've been pretty focused on what we've been trying to do."

First, they lost captain and most experienced player David Lighty, out six to 12 weeks with a broken bone in his foot.

Then they were run out of their own gym 76-48 by West Virginia for their first defeat of the season.

A day later, backup point guard Anthony Crater left the team because he was unhappy playing only 13 minutes a game.

On New Year's Eve, the Buckeyes regrouped to hold off Iowa for a 68-65 win. But three days later they followed that with a first-half letdown that led to another loss, 68-59, at Minnesota.

No wonder they've plummeted from No. 15 in the Associated Press poll just 10 days ago to No. 24 last week and now have fallen to well down the list of teams receiving votes this week.

On top of all that, they're preparing to play on tonight at No. 8 Michigan State, one of the toughest venues in college basketball.

Several weaknesses have been exposed since that 9-0 start.

Offensively, the Buckeyes are reliant on Evan Turner (16.2 points per game) to slash through the lane, Jon Diebler (11.8) to hit 3-pointers and wide-bodies Dallas Lauderdale and B.J. Mullens (6.9 points apiece) to bull their way around in the paint.

In the losses to West Virginia and Minnesota, none of them was particularly effective.

Without a senior on the roster and with no players left from the national championship game just two years ago, the young Buckeyes have wilted when confronted with adversity. Odds are, they haven't seen the last of the hard times.

Through the first week of play in the Big Ten, nine of the 11 teams lost at least one game. That's not a sign of weakness, but rather balance. There aren't any cupcakes in the conference.

"The league is definitely very good this year," backup forward Kyle Madsen said. "There are going to be losses, and you do have to fight through them. That's part of the season."

Ohio State actually gains a player for the Michigan State game when 7-foot junior-college transfer Nikola Kecman becomes eligible after a 12-game suspension for playing on a team with professionals in his native Serbia.

Kecman will see some playing time but likely will not get valuable minutes right away. He's not a physical presence, instead preferring to move outside for perimeter shots. He's raw at the defensive end too.

Pittsburgh made it to the top of the Associated Press' college basketball poll for the first time, and it wasn't even close.

The Panthers (14-0) took advantage of losses by season-long unanimous No. 1 North Carolina and No. 2 Connecticut to make the jump from third to first, receiving all but two of the first-place votes from the national media panel.

Michigan and Ohio State, who were 23rd and 24th respectively last week, fell out of the top 25.

Michigan (11-3) split its first two Big Ten games, losing to Wisconsin and beating Illinois. Ohio State (10-2) lost to Minnesota after a win over Iowa.

Pitt had been ranked second nine times since 1987-88 but had never reached No. 1 until this week.

"I think it means a lot to our fans and our city and it means a lot to our university, much more so than to me and our players," Panthers coach Jamie Dixon said. "But it is part of the reason why we play and work so hard so I am glad for them."

The Panthers are one of a record nine Big East teams in the top 25.

Duke (12-1) jumped from fifth to second to start a run of three straight teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference. North Carolina (13-1) is third and Wake Forest (13-0) fourth.

No. 13 Notre Dame 73,

No. 9 Georgetown 67

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Luke Harangody had 31 points and 11 rebounds, and Notre Dame shot 45 percent to end a five-game losing streak to the Hoyas.

The Hoyas closed to 71-67 with 15 seconds left when Chris Wright scored inside, but Kyle McAlarney, who missed the front end of a

1-and-1 14 seconds earlier, made two free throws with 12 seconds left.

No. 6 Oklahoma 100,

Md.-Eastern Shore 64

NORMAN, Okla. - Blake Griffin had 20 points and 16 rebounds to lead Oklahoma.

The Sooners (14-1) played without coach Jeff Capel, who was hospitalized earlier yesterday with stomach flu. Assistant coach Mark Cline took over in his absence.



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