Saturday, March 20, 1999

Buckeyes' guards at attention

Penn, Redd know challenge St. John's presents

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Ohio State has faced some good guards this season. Michigan State's Mateen Cleaves and Indiana's A.J. Guyton, to name two.

        So forgive the fourth-seeded Buckeyes if they don't get too worked up over tonight's showdown with No.3-seeded St. John's and its backcourt of freshman Erick Barkley and junior Marvis “Bootsy” Thornton.

        “This is nothing new to us,” OSU sophomore Michael Redd said.

        “It's just another challenge we have to face,” junior point guard Scoonie Penn added.

        The stakes are higher, of course. The winner tonight in the South Regional final of the NCAA Tournament advances to the Final Four in St. Petersburg, Fla.

        Ohio State (26-8) is making its first Elite Eight appearance since 1992; St. John's (28-8) its first since '91.

        “We've really exceeded all of my wildest imagination,” OSU coach Jim O'Brien said.

        The Red Storm players were fairly subdued during Friday's sessions with the media, so much so that one reporter asked if they were even excited to be in the regional final.

        Once they were out of the area, St. John's coach Mike Jarvis spoke for his guys.

        “They are very excited, trust me,” Jarvis said. “Yet they're afraid if they show people that, people will think they're satisfied. And they're not satisfied.”

        Barkley is to the Red Storm what Penn is to OSU; he is the floor leader. Barkley had 24 points and nine Thursday against Maryland, then said the Terrapins' Terrell Stokes could not stop him.

        When asked about that state ment Friday, Barkley smiled and dropped his head. He knew it was coming.

        “I was just taking what the defense gave me,” Barkley said. “Stokes gave me the opportunity to go past him. If Scoonie was to play me the same way, hopefully the same outcome will happen.”

        The Buckeyes had no problem with Barkley's comment.

        “You're supposed to have that kind of confidence on the court, that nobody can guard you,” Redd said. “Me and Scoonie have that going into every game.”

        The teams match up well inside. Both are more athletic than big. St. John's, however, gets more points from its post players.

        Ohio State's defense has been superb in three NCAA Tournament games, allowing an average of just 55.3 points.

        The Red Storm have posed problems for opponents, too.

        St. John's has become primarily a zone defense team the last two games in victories over Indiana and Maryland.

        Jarvis' players prefer man-to-man defense but are willing to play what works.

        “Teams don't know what to do against it, so we stay with it,” St. John's junior Lavor Postell said. “Coach likes to mix it up; I don't know what he's going to do next.”

        The way the Red Storm have been playing defense, Ohio State will have to make good decisions, penetrate the zone and pass the ball outside for open shots. It can't just settle for three-pointers.

        “We just have to hit our shots,” Redd said. “I think they're the hottest team in college basketball, them and Duke. Those guys are great on the boards; they have great athletic ability, quickness at all positions. ... Once again, we're going to have our work cut out for us.”

        The guards (technically Redd is starting at small forward) might offset one another, and the difference could be the supporting cast. OSU has no other players scoring in double figures aside from Redd and Penn; every St. John's starter averages more than 10 points.

        “It's going to be very difficult to beat us,” Postell said. “It's hard to match up with a team like us.”

        Oh yeah?

        “Our confidence is really high right now,” Redd said. “We know we can compete with anybody in the country.”

        Time to settle it on the court.