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Associated Press
Bishop Luers graduate Deshaun Thomas will lead Ohio State as the No. 2-seeded Buckeyes begin NCAA tourney play against No. 15 seed Iona on Friday.

Buckeyes wary of playing so close to home

– Ohio State is the No. 2 seed in the West Region, yet in the NCAA’s notion of geography it has to travel a only short distance and doesn’t have to leave the state to play its first game.

Still, coach Thad Matta has reason to feel uneasy about his Buckeyes’ NCAA tournament draw on Sunday.

Shortly after grinding out a 50-43 win over Wisconsin late in the afternoon to grab their fourth Big Ten tournament title in Matta’s nine years as head coach, the Buckeyes (26-7) were selected to meet Iona (20-13) at the University of Dayton Arena on Friday in the second round.

If the Buckeyes can get past the Gaels, they would meet the winner of seventh-seeded Notre Dame and No. 10 seed Iowa State.

But Matta has twice taken Ohio State teams to Dayton before for NCAA tournaments and each made the short trip home with a disappointing loss.

“Well, we’re 1-2 (in Dayton). Hopefully it’s time to change that, that’s for doggone sure,” Matta said as his team boarded the plane for the flight home from the Big Ten title game.

“Sometimes it’s just the way the ball bounces. We’ll hopefully put that behind us and see what we can do this year.”

His 2006 team (26-6) won the Big Ten title in the regular season and, also as a No. 2 seed, was sent to Dayton. In its first game, Ohio State beat Davidson 70-62 but then was manhandled by seventh-seeded Georgetown (23-9) and center Roy Hibbert, 70-52.

Then in 2009, the Buckeyes ended up in Dayton again, this time as an eighth seed against No. 9 Siena. Ronald Moore hit a three-pointer with 3.9 seconds left in the second overtime to beat the Buckeyes 74-72 before a partisan crowd.

“Hopefully we can put an end to that,” point guard Aaron Craft said of the quick exits in the Buckeyes’ home state. “We’re just a little over an hour down the road. You can’t beat that.”

Other teams in the West include top-seeded Gonzaga, along with No. 3 New Mexico, fourth-seeded Kansas State, Wisconsin at No. 5 and sixth-seeded Arizona.

Survive to the regional and the games will be played at Staples Center in Los Angeles, home to the Lakers and Kobe Bryant and the Clippers’ Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

Fifteenth-seeded Iona is making its 10th NCAA appearance and first back-to-back trips to the tournament since 2000 and 2001. A year ago, the Gaels lost to BYU, 78-72.

They earned their spot in the field this time around by winning the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament 60-57 over Manhattan on March 11.

The Buckeyes enter the big tournament as one of the hottest teams in the country, winning their final five regular-season games and then storming through three opponents in the conference tournament at United Center in Chicago.

“That’s a tribute to the kids,” Matta said of the strong finish. “They’re great kids who have stuck together through the good and the bad. And they’ve kept working. Quite honestly, they’ve gotten closer as the season has gone on, which is huge.”

After narrowly missing out on a piece of the regular season Big Ten title, the Buckeyes pulled away from Wisconsin in the tournament finale thanks to a series of big plays in the final minutes by substitute wing LaQuenton Ross.

Craft was selected as the tournament’s most outstanding player.

Matta was already considering strategy to change his luck in Dayton. He laughed at the suggestion he should have the team bus go into nearby Indiana before it arrived at UD Arena.

“No question,” he said. “We’re 2-0 over there (in Indiana this season). I may try that one.”