For the first time since 2008, Ohio State wasn't able to secure a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Now the Buckeyes will be trying to replicate the end of that 2008 season, where they ended up winning the NIT Championship. The title marked the second NIT Championship in school history, with the first championship coming back in 1986.
The first step in Ohio State's quest for a third NIT Championship is a matchup with in-state foe Akron. The last time the Buckeyes took on the Zips was in the first round of the 1989 NIT Tournament, where Ohio State earned a 81-70 victory. In seven games against Akron, Ohio State has won six of those meetings, with the only win by the Zips in the series coming all the way back in 1921.
Heading into the NIT, Ohio State probably has to be relieved they won't have to play Michigan State again this year. In their last five games, Ohio State has played Michigan State three times, with the Spartans winning all three games by at least 15 points. It has been over a month since the Buckeyes have lost a game to a team other than Michigan State, with their last loss to a team other than the Spartans coming to Wisconsin on February 4th in Madison.
Friday night's performance was on of the worst by the Buckeyes this year, as they missed all of their three-point attempts in the first half. The only other time Ohio State failed to connect on a three-point attempt in the first half came earlier in the year against Mercer. The Buckeyes only ended up making one of the 11 three-pointers they attempted during the game, marking their lowest total of the season. Along with their horrid shooting display, the Buckeyes also got outrebounded by Michigan State 40-29, which was Ohio State's largest rebounding disadvantage of the year.
Tonight's game against Akron will be the first Ohio State has played against an in-state school since they played back-to-back games against Miami (Ohio) and Wright State in December 2014. This is Ohio State's ninth appearance in the NIT, and now in seven of those appearances the Buckeyes have played another school from Ohio. The last loss for Ohio State against another team from Ohio was in 2014 when the Buckeyes lost to Dayton in Buffalo in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Ohio State hasn't lost in Columbus to a team from Ohio since they fell to Bowling Green in 1994 at St. John Arena.
Akron earned an automatic bid to the NIT Tournament by winning the MAC regular season title. The Zips missed out on their fifth NCAA Tournament appearance in school history when Buffalo's Blake Hamilton hit a three-point with two seconds left to give the Buffalo a 64-61 win in the MAC Tournament Championship Game on Saturday night in Cleveland. The last time the Zips participated in the NIT came in 2012, when they lost in the first round 76-74 to Northwestern.
Akron is coached by MAC Coach of the Year Keith Dambrot, who is in his 12th year as head coach of the Zips. Dambrot was the head coach at St. Vincent-St. Mary's High School in Akron for LeBron James' final two years of high school before Dambrot moved on to become an assistant coach for the Zips in 2001. In 2004, Dambrot was named head coach, and has amassed a 278-129 record, leading Akron to three NCAA Tournament appearances since 2009.
Ohio State could find themselves in some trouble if they shoot the basketball as poorly as they did against Michigan State on Friday night. If the Buckeyes aren't able to hit the outside shot they might have some trouble keeping up with Akron team that is more than capable of hitting the three-pointer. The Zips went 13 for 33 from behind in the arc in their loss to Buffalo on Saturday night, and have five players on their roster who have hit at least 50 three-pointers this season.
Much like Ohio State, Akron was rocked by a season-ending shoulder injury in the latter part of the season. Senior center Pat Forsythe hasn't played since mid-February, missing the last nine games. At 6-11, Forsythe gave the Zips size, which in combination with Isaiah Johnson, could have give Ohio State some trouble. Before being ruled out for the rest of the season, Forsythe was averaging 8.6 points per game and 4.9 rebounds per game while logging nearly 20 minutes per game on the floor.
Numbers to know
Ohio State has an all-time record of 54-13 against MAC opponents. The last time Ohio State play a MAC opponent was in December 2014, when they defeated Miami (Ohio) 93-55 at Value City Arena. The last loss for Ohio State against a MAC opponent came in 1998, when they lost 64-63 at Toledo.
Ohio State has won 18 NIT games in school history, and they have twice brought the NIT Championship to Columbus. Thad Matta is a perfect 5-0 in NIT games while he has been the head coach at Ohio State, winning the only time he led his team to a NIT appearance in 2008. Of those 18 wins, 10 of those wins in the NIT for Ohio State are home wins, three wins are on the road, and five have been at Madison Square Garden.
So far this year Ohio State has blocked 9.2 percent of their opponents shots, which ranks 11th best in the country. The Buckeyes have blocked 179 of their opponents' 1,943 shot attempts. The 5.4 blocks Ohio State is averaging per game is second-best in the Big Ten this year. The Buckeyes have also only had 3.2 percent of their shots blocked, which is eighth-fewest in the country.
Cast of characters
Lyle was the only Buckeye who was to reach double figures on Friday, socring 10 points in the loss to the Spartans. The work that Lyle did on the scoresheet in Indianapolis allowed him to move in 10th on Ohio State's all-time freshman scoring list. Lyle now has 354 points this season, which puts him 18 points behind tying William Buford for ninth in school history. To have any shot at winning, Lyle will have to take better care of the basketball after turning it over five times on Friday night against Michigan State.
After scoring at least 20 points in three straight games, Loving struggled against Michigan State, only scoring nine points in the loss. That snapped a streak of six straight games where Loving has reached double figures in scoring. What has been helping Loving excel lately has been his ability to get to the free throw line, where he went 47-60 in the six games prior to Friday night's game against Michigan State.
The junior from Cincinnati has been a force down low for Akron this year, earning First Team All-MAC honors. Johnson leads the Zips in scoring, averaging 13.6 points per game. The center has six games in which he has scoring 20 points or more, and five games where he has recorded a double-double. The latest of those double-doubles came on Thursday night's win over Eastern Michigan, where Johnson scored 19 points and grabbed 16 rebounds.
McAdams might just be Akron's hottest player of late, scoring at least 20 points in three of the last six games. The senior from Elida scored 23 points on Friday's win over Bowling Green, and is Akron's prime deep threat, hitting a team-high 95 three-pointers this season.
How to watch
Game time: 7 p.m. ET
Radio: WBNS-FM 97.1