Nov. 11, 2006

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -Despite two impressive wins to start the season, Ohio State coach Thad Matta doesn’t feel the slightest bit comfortable.

“We’re a long way from where we need to be,” Matta said. “I’m never comfortable with the team I’m coaching. I’m always nervous.”

Ron Lewis did his part to ease his coach’s nerves, scoring the first seven points of each half for Ohio State and finishing with 27 to lead the seventh-ranked Buckeyes to an 87-75 victory over Loyola of Chicago on Saturday night in the BCA Classic.

Ohio State (2-0) will face upstate neighbor Kent State (2-0) in the championship game Sunday night.

“One thing I do like is that we’re making winning plays,” Matta said. “And everybody on the team has stepped up in the two games at one point and done something we needed.”

Lewis topped his previous Ohio State best of 26 points set against Penn State last season. He scored 34 points in the 2003-04 season opener for Bowling Green.

Lewis also had 11 rebounds and three assists. He was 8-of-14 from the field, including 4-of-6 3-pointers, and also made all but one of his eight free throws while calling it the best game he has played in an Ohio State uniform.

“One thing I’m really proud of is I went to the boards,” Lewis said. “That was the one thing I was focusing on today. The scoring comes, but the one thing we really need on this team is rebounding.”

That’s because the Buckeyes are currently without prized freshman center Greg Oden, sidelined until Jan. 1 after having surgery on his right wrist.

Daequan Cook, coming off a 22-point game the night before in his freshman debut, added 18 points and nine rebounds. Ivan Harris also came off the bench and had 11 points.

“I feel like once I get in there I can play hard on every possession – just bust my butt and do whatever the coach tells me to do,” Harris said.

Blake Schilb had 19 points, J.R. Blount 15, Leon Young 12 and Majak Kou 11 for the Ramblers (1-1), who never recovered from a slow start.

“With a team like Ohio State, you can’t spot them 15 points,” Schilb said. “It was hard to get back in the game.”

Loyola of Chicago figured to provide a lot of problems for the young Buckeyes, who start two freshmen and a junior-college transfer. The Ramblers have all five starters back from a 19-11 season and are favored to win the Horizon League, just like the Buckeyes were picked to top the Big Ten. That was based mostly on the presence of Oden, who spent much of the game sitting on the bench, a towel draped over his head with a scarlet-and-gray brace on his wrist.

“I could see why they’re ranked as high as they are,” Loyola coach Jim Whitesell said. “With Oden coming back, they’ll be hard to match up with. They play kind of a free-and-easy style because they have so many athletes. They’re very impressive.”

In Friday’s 107-69 opening-round win over VMI, the Buckeyes were almost forced to keep up with the fullcourt-pressing, fast-breaking Keydets. Against Loyola, Ohio State’s defense set the pace.

The Buckeyes built a lead by harassing the Ramblers’ perimeter players, picking up points in transition and hitting their own open shots.

Cook, who says he never even tried to play defense in high school, is adapting to Matta’s defensive approach.

“For me, it’s developing great,” Cook said. “Playing defense sometimes takes away from your offense, but coach tells me I’m going to get to score, that it’s all about defense and who I can stop.”

Lewis had 16 points at the half – including the first seven in a 12-4 burst to start the game – as Ohio State went up 44-29 at the break.

He started the same way in the second half – his fast-break layup off a blind, backward pass by Mike Conley Jr. putting the Buckeyes up 51-33.

The lead never fell below 10 points again.

“I’m proud of the way we got out of the gate,” Matta said. “At times we show our youthfulness. … We’re a work in progress.”