Rams butt heads with Buckeyes in West Region

Mar 19, 2015 - 2:38 PM Portland, OR (SportsNetwork.com) - A fixture in the postseason, the Ohio State Buckeyes make their 27th appearance in the NCAA Tournament as they kick off the second round against the Rams of Virginia Commonwealth at the Moda Center on Thursday afternoon.

The Buckeyes, who are the 10th seed in the West Region, have a mark of 48-25 all-time in this event and have advanced to the Final Four a total of 10 times, winning it all back in 1960. Ohio State has made it to the round of 16 a total of 14 times and is hoping to return to favorable play after being one- and-done in 2014. The program was 23-10 during the 2014-15 campaign overall and 11-7 versus the rest of the Big Ten, but after defeating Minnesota in the conference tournament a week ago by a score of 79-73, it bowed to Michigan State, 76-67.

As for the Rams, a seven seed in the region, they have managed to survive the season despite a crucial blow to the roster, that being the loss of Briante Weber to injury. The squad took a few steps back when he left the floor, but it all came together for VCU in the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament as it ran the table against Fordham, Richmond, nationally-ranked Davidson and, in the title game, Dayton, in order to earn the automatic berth. For the first time in program history and the first time for any team from the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Rams are into the NCAA Tournament for the fifth straight year. The squad is 12-13 in 13 previous appearances in the event.

The winner of this first-ever meeting between the Rams and Buckeyes will be back in action on Saturday in the third round, facing the survivor of the Texas Southern/Arizona matchup.

The Buckeyes have a number of talented performers on the roster, but none more important than D'Angelo Russell who was named to the All-Big Ten First Team as well as the league's Freshman of the Year. The fourth rookie of the year under the tutelage of head coach Thad Matta, Russell is the top freshman scorer nationally with 19.3 ppg, and is the second-leading scorer in the Big Ten overall. A 41.5 percent shooter from 3-point range, Russell also produced 5.6 rpg and was second on the unit in both assists (168) and steals (53). The only other double-digit scorer for the Buckeyes heading into play this week is Sam Thompson with his 10.2 ppg.

Shannon Scott, a mere 29.3 percent shooter out on the perimeter as he generates 8.5 ppg, sets the table along with Russell, having handed out 196 assists to lead the league. As a unit, Ohio State scores an impressive 75.8 ppg, but that number might be a bit misleading given that several of the top- scoring efforts by the Buckeyes came against the likes of Campbell, Sacred Heart and UMass-Lowell in the first two weeks of the season.

Missing Weber, who underwent season-ending knee surgery more than six weeks ago, means the Rams have to fill a massive void left by one of the top defensive players not only in the A-10 but the nation over the last several years. Even though he played in just 20 of their 35 games, Weber still led the program with 78 steals, with JeQuan Lewis being second on that list with 49 in his 34 games. Lewis, first on the squad with 91 assists as a part-time starter, is also third in scoring with 8.4 ppg, but is shooting only 37.0 percent from the floor.

Ahead of Lewis in the scoring department are Treveon Graham and Melvin Johnson with 16.3 and 12.3 ppg, respectively. Graham, who knocked down a team-best 123 shots at the free-throw line for a program that is only 65.6 percent accurate at the stripe, also cleared 7.0 rpg, while Johnson focused his efforts out on the perimeter where he converted a team-high 84 triples for a team that was 34.2 percent accurate behind the 3-point line.

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