While top-seeded Ohio State had a relatively easy road in its first two games in the NCAA East Regional, the pressure mounts with Friday's 9:45 p.m. matchup against Kentucky in Newark, N.J.
With the Newark qualifiers also including North Carolina and Marquette, there will be no home-court advantage as there was for the Buckeyes in Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena. But OSU coach Thad Matta said he learned a lot about his team's ability to handle hostile environments during December road trips to Florida and Florida State.
Then No. 4-ranked OSU defeated then-No. 9 Florida 93-75 in a Nov. 16 game on ESPN. Freshman Jared Sullinger and senior David Lighty scored 26 points apiece and William Buford added 16 as Ohio State hit 24 of 34 shots in the second half to down the Gators. Florida had shot 61 percent in the first half and led by seven at intermission.
Matta took a No. 2-ranked team to Florida State on Nov. 30 and survived 58-44.
Sullinger totalled 11 points and 13 rebounds against the Seminoles and defended Chris Singleton's, FSU's leading scorer, holding him to half his 16-point average. Jon Diebler led OSU with 12 points and Lighty added 10 as the Buckeyes jumped out to a 7-0 lead and took command.
"Preparation is what we've done in going to Florida, going to Florida State and nine games on the road in the Big Ten,'' Matta said Sunday. "I've seen this year some of the most hostile environments and I think our guys have handled it well. We played Syracuse a few years ago in the Garden.
"It is what it is. We know we'll have our fans. We've got a great base out there. But we've got to do our job on the court, that's for sure.''