It’s been a strange schedule for the Buckeyes this season, as the team has already played two games in their conference slate before jumping back into a handful of non-conference matchups. Most recently, Ohio State earned a dominant, 35-point win over William and Mary in Columbus. Junior forward Keita Bates-Diop once again led the way for the Buckeyes with 27 points, and was one of four players scoring in double digits.
Ohio State is riding a three-game win streak that started with a statement victory over Wisconsin at the Kohl Center, and continued with a huge comeback over Michigan at the Value City Arena. Despite some lineup changes by head coach Chris Holtmann, including not starting point guard C.J. Jackson for two games, things are gelling for the squad, which has seen improved three-point shooting and fewer turnovers in the last few games. The Buckeyes shot nearly 65 percent from the field, including 52 percent from three point range against William and Mary, and committed a better-than-average 11 turnovers in the matchup.
The Mountaineers, meanwhile, are 5-6 on the season, but most of their losses have been close--including a six-point defeat to Iowa State early in the season. The team is averaging 88 points per game on the season at 47 percent shooting. However, App State is currently on a two-game skid, having lost close ones to Western Carolina and Akron. Like the Buckeyes, the Mountaineers have had a week off since their last matchup.
The Mountaineers were picked to finish 11th out of the 12 teams in the Sun Belt Conference preseason coaches poll--the same spot where they finished last season. Appalachian State returns 12 players from last year’s roster, including three starters in junior guard Ronshad Shabazz, junior forward Tyrell Johnson and senior forward Griffin Kinney.
Head coach Jim Fox took the helm of the Mountaineers in 2014 and had been steadily rebuilding the program over the past three seasons. Under Fox, Appalachian State has amassed a 25-36 overall record in more than three seasons, though the team hasn’t won more than 10 games in a year since the 2014-15 campaign.
Officially, this game marks the first meeting all-time between Ohio State and Appalachian State, but the Buckeyes own a 7-3 record against Sun Belt teams. Unofficially, Ohio State defeated Appalachian State in the first round of the 2000 NCAA Tournament, but later was forced to vacate the win. Appalachian State, meanwhile, has an outstanding record against a certain team up north in the Big Ten...on the football field at least.
Numbers to know
The Buckeyes have moved into the top-50 of the latest KenPom rankings. Ohio State started the season at the No. 78 spot (No. 10 in the Big Ten), but have moved up the list with a combination of decent wins and no terrible losses. While the Buckeyes only have one win over a fellow top-50 team (Michigan, No. 36), their only losses have come to teams ranked in the top-50. Compared to last season, when Ohio State endured “bad” losses to teams outside the top-100, including No. 271 Florida Atlantic, things seem to be on the up-and-up under Holtmann. The team will have a tough stretch ahead in Big Ten play as they face Maryland (No. 38), Penn State (No.40), Minnesota (No. 41) and Northwestern (No. 44). That’s also not including the next true test for the Buckeyes when they face No. 9 UNC. For the record, Appalachian State is No. 186.
The number of turnovers C.J. Jackson committed against William and Mary last week. Chris Holtmann made a bold statement when he benched Jackson after Ohio State’s brutal loss to Clemson in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Jackson himself committed five of the team’s 14 turnovers versus the Tigers. Against Butler, he gave up seven. Holtmann has been known to be tough on his point guards, and even stated after benching Jackson that he was “sending a message.” Jackson obviously received the message loud and clear. He committed just one turnover against Wisconsin and two against Michigan, while averaging four assists per game.
Ohio State was pretty abysmal from behind the arc early this season, but the team has turned it on in their three-game stretch against Wisconsin, Michigan and William and Mary, collectively hitting 23 of their 48 attempts from three-point range. Overall, the Buckeyes are averaging 36.2 percent from three on the season. Keita Bates-Diop leads the category for Ohio State, hitting more than 44 percent of his shots from behind the arc. C.J. Jackson has been on a streak himself, making 43 percent of his three-point attempts. The Buckeyes are sixth in the conference in three-point percentage, but that ranking may improve as the team starts to rely more on the three to bolster their scoring.
Cast of characters
The junior point guard had 16 points in 28 minutes against the Tribe last week in his first start back since the Buckeyes’ loss to Clemson last month. While turnovers have been an issue for Jackson throughout the season, he has managed to clean up his play during the last three-game stretch. Coming off of the bench against Wisconsin and Michigan, Jackson scored 10 and 17 points, respectively, before getting back into a starting role against William and Mary. Jackson is the second-leading scorer on the season for Ohio State, averaging 13.5 points per game and a team-high four assists per outing. Holtmann has already made his point, but Jackson will need to continue to limit his turnovers as the Buckeyes move toward a tough conference schedule in January.
The redshirt junior has been the on-court leader for Ohio State through the duration of the season. He is the Buckeyes’ leading scorer, averaging 18.3 points per game. While his rebounds have fallen off somewhat (he had a double-double nearly every game to start the season), he is still pulling down 9.5 boards per game--also a team-high. Most recently, Bates-Diop dropped 27 points on William and Mary, which is a career-high for the junior forward. That performance, along with his heroics in the Buckeyes’ comeback win over Michigan, earned Bates-Diop Big Ten Player of the Week honors last week. While other players continue to develop around him, Bates-Diop has been a rock that Holtmann has been able to rely on throughout the season.
The junior guard from Raleigh is the leading scorer for the Mountaineers, averaging nearly 22 points per game and scoring in double figures every game this season. This year marks Shabazz's third season as a starter. He averaged 11.9 points per game during his freshman season, improved in his sophomore campaign when he logged 16.7 and continues to pad his stats with more points this year; he has scored more than 1,000 points over the course of his career at Appalachian State. In the team’s last outing against Akron, Shabaaz notched a season-high 26, including nine from three-point range.
The Delaware, OH native is a four-year player for Appalachian State, and is the team’s third-leading scorer, averaging 11 points per game. Like Shabaaz, Kinney has gotten better with age, continuing to improve his key stats each year that he’s been with the program. This season, he has been the most consistent shooter among the starting five, hitting more than 62 percent of his shots from the field. He is also second on the team in rebounds, pulling down 5.2 per game. Most recently, Kinney hit a career-high 28 points against Akron last week during his 100th game as a Mountaineer.
How to watch
Game time: 6 p.m. EST
Radio: 97.1 WBNS-FM