Matta warns Buckeyes not to overlook Siena

Published 2:49 am Friday, March 20, 2009

DAYTON (AP) — Once Ohio State learned the identity of its first-round opponent in this year’s NCAA tournament, Buckeyes coach Thad Matta quickly went to work.

Matta remembered Siena had upset Vanderbilt last year, and he wasted little time telling his team.

‘‘Probably about 15 seconds,’’ said guard Evan Turner.

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These Saints can be downright devilish in March.

Matta may not have needed any motivational tool on his eighth-seeded Buckeyes (22-10), who will have the luxury of playing about an hour’s drive down Interstate 70 in Friday’s opening round at the University of Dayton Arena. Most of OSU’s players were already aware of ninth-seeded Siena (26-7), which followed up on last year’s tournament success by scheduling non-conference games against Tennessee, Wichita State, Oklahoma State and Kansas.

Although the Saints lost those matchups, they grew from the experience of playing bigger, stronger players from bigger, stronger conferences. Ohio State’s just another school.

‘‘We didn’t have one game this year that we could sort of mail it in,’’ said coach Fran McCaffery. ‘‘I think that helped our focus and it made us a tough road team. This year, with the so-called target on our backs every night, they were able to focus and do the things necessary to win, especially at the end of the game. Obviously that’s what you need in this environment.’’

The Saints will need all their experience to combat an Ohio State crowd. Make no mistake, this is Dayton Flyer country, but it’s smack in the middle of Buckeye territory.

‘‘Last year, playing Vanderbilt in Tampa was one thing,’’ McCaffery said. ‘‘Because we were the heavy underdog, I think a lot of people got behind us. We recognize that will not be the case tomorrow night. There will be a lot of red. Hopefully maybe some of the Louisville people will jump towards us.”