The Ohio State Buckeyes men’s basketball team earned a dominant, 31-point win over Robert Morris in their season opener Friday, giving first-year head coach Chris Holtmann a win to kick off his tenure in Columbus. Holtmann, formerly the head coach at Butler, has a long way to go to match Matta’s 337 wins at Ohio State, but the cruising win Friday night was a great start. Now, the Buckeyes look to continue their non-conference run as they face the Highlanders of Radford from the Big South Conference in Columbus.
After last year’s roster was decimated by attrition, especially from the 2015 recruiting class, of which there are no players remaining (guard JaQuan Lyle transferred to New Mexico in August after he left the team in May), Holtmann has managed to build a balanced roster despite minimal veteran talent. Those returners include forward Jae’Sean Tate and guard Kam Williams, both seniors. Redshirt junior forward Keita Bates-Diop, who played in just nine games last season due to injury, was the team’s No. 2 scorer in the 2015-16 season, behind the now-departed Marc Loving. Now back and healthy, Bates-Diop is ready to make an impact in his fourth year with the program.
Friday, four Buckeyes scored in double digits, including veterans Bates-Diop and Williams, and newcomers Musa Jallow and Kaleb Wesson. Jallow, a freshman guard from Indiana, was particularly intriguing in his performance, finishing the night with 11 points, three rebounds and two steals in 19 minutes of play. He put an exclamation mark on Ohio State’s performance with a slam dunk with nine minutes remaining in the second half, and brought high energy throughout the game that looks to be akin, at this early stage in the season, to Tate.
The Highlanders, meanwhile, are led by seventh-year head coach Mike Jones. Last season, Jones led Radford to a 14-18 record. Overall, Jones has amassed a 93-103 record at his first head coaching job, despite three winning seasons during his tenure. Prior to Radford, Jones served as an assistant coach at VCU, Georgia, West Virginia, Richmond, Furman and Howard.
Radford also returns a veteran roster, including their top eight--yes, eight--leading scorers. Junior forward Ed Polite, Jr. led the Highlanders in scoring and rebounds last season, averaging 11.8 points per game. Senior guard Justin Cousin was the only other Radford player averaging double-digit scoring last season, adding 11 points per game. With just three freshmen on the roster, the team, despite a losing record last season, brings back a lot of experience to build upon.
The Highlanders won their season opener 72-63 versus Georgia Southwestern Friday, but have a tough season ahead that includes road games against Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech and Nevada over the next month. After finishing sixth in the conference last season, Radford came in at No. 7 in the Big South preseason poll behind UNC-Asheville, whom Ohio State defeated last season.
Radford is 0-2 all-time against Ohio State, and 1-6 against teams from the Big Ten. The last time the Highlanders and Buckeyes squared off was in 2002, when Ohio State brought home a 96-80 win in Columbus. Previously, the two teams had not faced off since 1989 when the Buckeyes earned a 47-point win.
Numbers to know
While the Buckeyes hold a perfect record against Radford, Chris Holtmann holds a 3-2 record against the Highlanders, dating back to his time at Gardner-Webb of the Big South. Holtmann was at the helm of the Runnin’ Bulldogs from 2010-13 before his time with Butler, and amassed a 44-54 overall record. In his last season, however, Holtmann took the Bulldogs to a 21-13 record, good for second-place in the Big South.
Friday night against Robert Morris, four Buckeyes scored in double digits. Last season, four players finished the season averaging double-digit scoring, including Jae’Sean Tate (14.3 points per game), Marc Loving (12.3 points per game), JaQuan Lyle (11.4 points per game) and Trevor Thompson (10.6 points per game). Tate, the only member on the list who is still on the roster, had seven points Friday against the Colonials.
Ohio State shot 60 percent from the field Friday--a far cry from the 46.3 percent they shot last season from the floor. Unfortunately, the Buckeyes were abysmal from the three-point line, hitting just 5-of-18 from long-range. Keita Bates-Diop once again led the team, shooting 75 percent from the field, while Kaleb Wesson shot 71.4 percent.
Cast of characters
As previously mentioned, the redshirt junior forward came back with a bang in Ohio State’s opener Friday. He was greatly missed last season when he sat out 23 games with several injuries as the Buckeyes struggled to find an identity on offense, but proved to be a dominant force against Robert Morris in 23 minutes on the court. In addition to his 18 points, Bates-Diop recorded a team-high 11 rebounds and two blocks.
The freshman was not widely regarded when he signed with the Buckeyes earlier this year, and was noted more for simply boosting the dwindling number of players on the Ohio State roster following last season. After his opener Friday night, however, Jallow looks to be an energetic force for a team that distinctly lacked energy last season. He was fourth on the team in scoring, but had two steals and three dunks on the night.
Ed Polite, Jr.
The 6-foot-5 forward, who was named to the preseason All-Big South second team, averaged a team-high 11.8 points and 9.5 rebounds per game last season. His 14 double doubles were good for 32nd nationally and were the best in the Big South Conference. He recorded 12 points and a team-high 11 rebounds Friday versus Georgia Southwestern. While not a prolific scorer, the Buckeyes will need to contain Polite, who has been a consistent player throughout his career with the Highlanders.
Jones, a six-foot redshirt freshman guard from Cincinnati, led the Highlanders in scoring Friday with 15 points on the night. After being ruled academically ineligible last season, Jones is seeing his first college playing time, recording 19 minutes against Georgia Southwestern. While he lacks experience, Jones brings significant scoring ability to a team that lacks a productive scorer. Even so, his shooting was inconsistent, and Jones his just 56 percent from the field.
How to watch
Game time: 2:30 p.m. EST
Radio: 97.1 WBNS-FM
Streaming: BTN Plus