Buckeyes without Connolly after ankle injury

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 9, 2003

COLUMBUS -- An injury has stricken Ohio State's basketball team again, and the timing couldn't be worse.

The Buckeyes may be without shooting guard Sean Connolly on Thursday night for the Big Ten opener at No. 25 Michigan State, a place where even healthy teams struggle.

Connolly hasn't practiced this week because of sprained left ankle. His absence would leave the Buckeyes without their second-leading scorer (15.4 points a game) and best outside shooter.

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''It's day-to-day with Connolly,'' Ohio State coach Jim O'Brien said. ''He's going to go with us and we're hopeful that Thursday he's going to be able to play.''

O'Brien hasn't had a full complement of players all season. Point guard Brandon Fuss-Cheatham missed the first four games with torn cartilage in his left knee and just now is starting to play extended minutes.

Backup forward Shun Jenkins also missed time due to a broken finger, and center Terence Dials is expected to be out another 3-to-5 weeks with a stress fracture in his lower back.

All the injuries have made practice -- let alone games -- difficult for O'Brien to manage.

He's worried that some players could get burned out because in most games, the Buckeyes have had seven players getting most of the minutes.

''We're just trying to adjust and do the right thing and make sure that guys are ready to try and play as much as they can during the course of the games and still get stuff done in practice,'' O'Brien said.

''It's been a challenge to just get it all done, but that's where we are and how it is.''

Depth hasn't been a factor in Ohio State's seven wins, which have come against Seton Hall and six small schools.

Alabama, Duke, Pittsburgh and Louisville were able to expose that weakness and beat the Buckeyes, leaving them 0-4 against ranked opponents.

After playing Michigan State (8-4) and No. 15 Indiana at home on Saturday, the Buckeyes will have faced Top 25 teams in six of their 13 games.

''Everybody knows we have to just keep playing, working hard and just hopefully get some of these injuries to go away,'' senior guard Brent Darby said.

Forward Zach Williams is confident the Buckeyes will do well against the Spartans now that 7-foot center Velimir Radinovic is starting to score and the 6-6, 235-pound Jenkins has returned, adding needed inside muscle.

''Guys are starting to pick up the slack,'' Williams said. ''We're fighting adversity and we'll be all right.''

O'Brien is still taking precautions.

With Darby playing all 45 minutes in a 72-64 overtime loss to Louisville on Saturday and two games this week, O'Brien kept his leading scorer out of defensive drills in practice Tuesday.

''It's hard to take him out of practice on the offense because it all revolves around him,'' O'Brien said.