December 16, 2012

Buckeyes' senior maturing in the post

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Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Later today, Evan Ravenel will across a stage inside of the Schottenstein Center and receive a degree from the Ohio State University. But the best days of the Buckeye big man's college basketball career might just be beginning.

OSU's senior center-forward is in the midst of perhaps the best stretch of his two-year career in Columbus, having averaged 11.5 points and eight rebounds in Buckeyes wins over Savannah State and UNC-Asheville. Ravenel's emergence in the past week couldn't have come at a better time for OSU coach Thad Matta, who has spent the better part of the first month of the 2012-13 season searching for a serviceable replacement in the post for departed two-time All-American Jared Sullinger.

"I hope we can continue to expand on that for him," Matta said of Ravenel's recent run. ""That's what you ultimately want, especially from a senior."

It's been an up-and-down senior campaign for the Boston College transfer, who served as Sullinger's primary backup throughout the Buckeyes' run to the Final Four a season ago. Despite starting in each of OSU's first seven games this season, Ravenel found himself losing minutes to his backups, Amir Williams and Trey McDonald, after averaging just 5.1 points and 3.7 rebounds.

A two-point, one-rebound, and four-foul performance against Long Beach State on Dec. 8 led to a heart-to-heart meeting between Ravenel and the Buckeyes coaching staff, which the Tampa, Fla. credited as a turning point in his season.

"We sat down and talked about my performance and how I just gotta play with energy," Ravenel said. "It ain't always going to be perfect, but if I play hard and play with energy, good things happen."

The 6-foot-8 forward did just that in an OSU win over Savannah State last Wednesday, scoring 11 points and pulling down a season-high nine rebounds against the Tigers. Matta was certainly pleased with Ravenel's first post-meeting outing, but wanted to see that performance replicated with consistency.

The Ohio State head coach got that on Saturday, when his starting center matched a career-high with 12 points and recorded seven rebounds in the Buckeyes' win over UNC-Asheville. While Matta admitted that he'd still like to get more out of the 250-pounder on the defensive end of the floor, the OSU coach remains optimistic that Ravenel's past two games are just a sign of things to come from him as the Buckeyes move towards Big Ten play.

"Hopefully he's just a little more at ease in his mind of hey, I can relax and just play the game of basketball," Matta said. "Just getting him to calm down and play hard and not overanalyze everything is the biggest thing for him."

Despite a couple tip dunks and fast break finishes that showed what had been otherwise hidden athleticism, Ravenel is your typical bruiser in the post, who isn't going to remind anybody of his former roommate, Sullinger. Ohio State's lone senior has always been aware that he and the No. 21 overall pick in last June's NBA Draft don't have much in common from an offensive standpoint, but said that his chat with the OSU coaches helped redefine his role on this year's team.

"They just told me what I needed to do. I told them what I wanted out of myself and out of this team and they told me what I could bring to the team and what I needed to do to make that happen," Ravenel recalled. "Playing hard and playing with energy, that's what I have to do. It's not shoot a thousand shots, it's not go do a million ball handling drills or whatever, it's just playing hard. If I play hard, then that's what happens, it's the type of player I am."

Since talking with Ravenel a week ago, Matta's noticed a maturation in his team's elder statesman and OSU graduate, which he hopes will continue to pay dividends as the Buckeyes move towards the heart of their schedule.

"He looks, assesses the situation and basically says, 'What do I have to do to help this basketball team?'" Matta said. "The more he understands that and gets into that mode, the better basketball team we're going to be."


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