Nov. 24, 2006

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – No. 4 Ohio State couldn’t have played much better through its first six games. The question is how much the young Buckeyes have learned as they prepare to take on No. 2 North Carolina next week.

Freshmen Daequan Cook and Mike Conley Jr. and backup center Matt Terwilliger led a first-half onslaught to power Ohio State past Youngstown, 91-57 on Friday night.

“It’s a big step for us,” senior Ron Lewis said of the showdown in Chapel Hill on Wednesday night against the Tar Heels. “It’s on national television and it’ll really tell what type of team we are, up against a great team.”

The words Youngstown State were never spoken by coach Thad Matta or three players during postgame interviews. North Carolina, however, was mentioned repeatedly.

“It’s kind of irrelevant if I think we are or are not (ready),” Matta said. “At the same time, if you had asked me if we’d be 6-0 going into North Carolina, I would not have been so sure we would be here. There were so many unknowns.”

No team has come closer than 12 points against Ohio State, which is winning by an average margin of 26 points. And the Buckeyes – with three freshmen and a junior-college transfer thrown into the top eight players – still are without heralded 7-foot big man Greg Oden, a two-time national prep player of the year who is close to returning from June 16 surgery to repair ligament damage in his right wrist.

“I’d feel better if Greg was healthy going into North Carolina,” Matta said not too surprisingly. He confirmed that Oden will not play against the Tar Heels.

Ivan Harris had 19 points, Cook had 17 points and 11 rebounds, Lewis 16 points, Terwilliger 12 and David Lighty 11. Jamar Butler added nine assists and Conley had eight points, five assists and five steals.

Terwilliger, a junior forward, scored 10 points in the first half to surpass his career high by a point. He also attempted his first collegiate 3-pointer and made it.

“I thought he (the defender) was going to jump out,” he said. “He didn’t so I let it fly.”

John Barber scored 16 points, Quin Humphrey 15 and Keston Roberts 11 for the Penguins (2-4), who fell to 0-16 against Big Ten opponents and 0-4 against Ohio State.

The Penguins hung around for the first 7 minutes before Ohio State’s defense, some hurried shots and loose ballhandling conspired to turn the game into a rout.

Ohio State led just 13-12 before Youngstown State mustered only two points over the next 9 1/2 minutes. Cook had 11 points, Terwilliger eight and Conley had six points, two assists and a steal that led to a basket.

“We obviously did some good things up to the first media timeout,” Youngstown State coach Jerry Slocum. “Then we had a very tough time taking care of the ball and that was a big factor.”

Cook said he has played against almost all of the North Carolina players in All-Star games, camps and AAU tournaments.

“This is one of the games we’ve been looking forward to,” he said.

The Buckeyes were ahead 54-25 at the break while shooting just under 60 percent from the field. The lead never fell below 25 points in the second half.

The Penguins had already played two Big Ten teams, losing at Michigan State 86-61 and at Michigan 65-56.

“Ohio State shoots the ball so well and they spread the floor so well,” Slocum said. “Michigan State’s a little tougher and rebounds better. But Ohio State is just tremendous offensively.”

Ohio State hit 13 of 29 3-pointers and held a 45-37 edge on the boards.

The game was played off campus at Nationwide Arena to satisfy the requirement for the host school of an NCAA tournament to have at least one game in the host facility before next March.

Forget about March. Matta said he will soon know a lot more about where his team is now.

“We know they’ve got great players,” he said of the Tar Heels. “We’ll go down and play and try to get a feel for where we are.”