Ohio State is looking for their third consecutive victory Tuesday night, after wins against Northern Illinois, and most recently against No. 4 Kentucky on Saturday afternoon. The Buckeyes played the best game that we have seen out of them all season against the Wildcats, and are hoping to keep that momentum going against Mercer Tuesday night in the Schott.
To see a complete team game from the Buckeyes was very refreshing. Often times during this season, we would see a pair of Buckeyes have good games, and even better effort, but see others falter. Everybody was involved, and it was clear that is going to be needed moving forward. Players were feeding off of each other's energy, and when one appeared to be losing sight while on the floor, the next man was ready to go. It worked, and it was beautiful.
We might also see a new face hit the floor for the Buckeyes in recently cleared freshman Mickey Mitchell. Mitchell had been waiting to hear from the NCAA forever, and was finally granted eligibility before the Buckeyes game against Kentucky. This could be a perfect opportunity for Thad Matta to work in Mitchell if they Buckeyes are able to get a comfortable lead in a game they cannot afford to lose.
The Buckeyes opposition, Mercer, is relatively young themselves. They are a more experienced team than the Buckeyes, with the majority of the players getting playing time being sophomores, with juniors, seniors, and a couple of freshmen sprinkled in. Typically they go about eight players deep, similar to Ohio State, but have 10 players who have played in all 11 games, getting some sort of playing time.
The Bears are coming off of a nice win against Arkansas, an overtime victory by a score of 69-66. Mercer relies heavily on Stephon Jelks, who most recently had a 20 point game against Arkansas, where he was 4-of-7 from behind the arc. Jelks had 15 rebounds in that game as well, and has five double-doubles on the season. When Jelks gets his minutes, he typically puts the numbers up that his team needs him to.
Alongside Jelks, the Bears could be riding the hot hand of Jestin Lewis, who had 28 points and 21 points against Auburn and Arkansas respectively in the Bears last two contests. Desmond Ringer, a sophomore forward out of McDonough, Georgia, gives the Bears good size with his 6'9, 255 pound frame. Their main distributor of the ball, Phillip Leonard, is also a name to look for. If he can get the ball to Jelks and Lewis, Mercer could put up a very good fight.
Numbers to know
Ohio State has two losses to unranked non-conference opponents this season, doubling what Thad Matta has had in his entire tenure at the school. Losses to UT Arlington and Louisiana Tech lowered expectations for this group quickly, but after a win over No. 4 Kentucky, there is still hope. It would be a huge mistake to look past Mercer, though.
The Buckeyes shot 50 percent from three point range in their upset win over Kentucky. Sure the percentage is high, and it would be great if they could shoot that every game, but that isn't realistic. What we're looking at here, is a team that took good, open looks, and they fell. Everybody got involved, and that's part of what made them so successful. If they can do the same here, they should be able to shoot a decent percentage.
Cast of characters
Loving is the anchor of this team. He leads the team in minutes played, as well as points per game, and is second in rebounds. He is also tied for second on the team in assists per game. He is essentially Ohio State's do it all guy. The Buckeyes have other talented players, but some nights it seems like they go as Marc Loving does. The junior is coming off of a 12 point, eight rebound performance against Kentucky, and will be key in helping keep the Buckeyes on the right path for the rest of the way. If Marc Loving does not perform well, this team will likely suffer, and we have seen it happen against teams like Mercer.
He is somewhat of Ohio State's Draymond Green. Tate is a big guy, and brings a lot of energy. He got the mood set early in the Kentucky game, jawing back and forth with the opposition just enough to get in their heads, and get the rest of the Buckeyes around him focused and into the task at hand. Tate is averaging almost 12 points and seven rebounds on the season, and has been a leader with Loving, as they are two of the older guys on the team. Moving forward, Tate's leadership and energy will be an important factor in the performance of the rest of the team.
Jelks is the anchor of this 9-2 Mercer squad. The forward out of Marietta, Georgia has improved greatly from his freshman to his sophomore campaign, and is now averaging the most minutes on this Bears team. Jelks is one of the primary scorers for the Bears, but will also grab the majority of their rebounds, and will give you a pair of assists per contest. The rebounds might not come as easy against the Buckeyes with the towering Daniel Giddens and Trevor Thompson underneath the basket.
Lewis is the Bears' senior point guard, coming in at 6'1, 170 pounds. He isn't quite as much of a distributor as he is a scorer. He is averaging 2.2 assists per game, but is leading his team in scoring with 12.6 points a game. It is his first year at the school, after spending three seasons at Wallace State Community College in Hanceville, Alabama, but is clearly fitting in nicely with his new team. Lewis doesn't shoot an incredibly high percentage, and with his assist numbers as low as they are, a big scoring game will be needed from him in order to push his team over the top.
How to watch
Game time: 9 p.m. ET
Radio: 97.1 FM