After dropping its first conference game of the season to Penn State, the No.17 Ohio State Buckeyes look to bounce back tonight against Indiana in Columbus in the third iteration of their four-game homestand before heading to West Lafayette, Ind., to face No. 3 Purdue.
The Buckeyes’ loss came in dramatic fashion after the Nittany Lions’ Tony Carr hit a three-pointer as time expired. It was Ohio State’s first loss in more than a month, snapping an eight-game win streak. Junior forward Keita Bates-Diop was questionable heading into the matchup, but played 32 minutes and had a team-high 25 points on the night. Senior forward Jae’Sean Tate added 17 of his own in the loss. With the loss, the Buckeyes fall to 18-5 on the season, including 9-1 in conference play.
The Hoosiers, meanwhile, are losers of two straight, having dropped their most recent game to third-ranked Purdue 74-67. However, Indiana gave Purdue one of its toughest tests of the season, playing the Boilermakers close well into the second half in a tightly contested match in Assembly Hall. IU is sitting at 12-10 overall, including 5-5 in conference play.
Indiana is in its first season under head coach Archie Miller, previously of Dayton fame and the man who many projected would replace Thad Matta before he accepted the IU role. Miller, like Chris Holtmann, has a lot to live up to as he fills the very large shoes of the departed Tom Crean. Crean was fired after nearly a decade in Bloomington after putting together an 18-16 season last year, which included a 7-11 conference mark.
Also like Holtmann, Miller came to Indiana with the purpose of rebuilding a program that had managed to erode despite past success of its head coach. A winning record overall and an even split in conference play, good for fifth-place in the Big Ten standings, is not terrible for a first-year coach, but certainly pales in comparison to what Holtmann has managed to achieve just a few hours away.
Miller had a lot to build off of heading into this season. While Indiana lost their top scorer from last season in guard James Blackmon, Jr. and center Thomas Bryant to the NBA, they return three starters from last season: Junior forward Juwan Morgan and senior guards Robert Johnson and Justin Newkirk. However, the Hoosiers lost starting sophomore forward De’Ron Davis due to an injury in practice earlier this month.
Ohio State is 77-105 against Indiana all-time. The Buckeyes hold an 811-714 overall record against current teams from the Big Ten. Tonight’s game won’t be the last time Ohio State faces Miller’s squad this season, as the Buckeyes are scheduled to face IU once again in their regular season finale.
Numbers to know
The number of days that Ohio State had to play five games. It was a grueling stretch, and there is little doubt that the team as a whole was already exhausted by the time it hit the floor against Penn State. The Nittany Lions, meanwhile, hadn’t played a game since falling to Northwestern on Jan. 20. Penn State did have to turn around, however, and play Rutgers Saturday with just one day of rest. This scheduling is the result of a condensed conference schedule to accommodate an earlier Big Ten Tournament in Madison Square Garden. The Big East Tournament was already scheduled in the same location during the Big Ten Tournament’s normal time, hence the adjustment to the schedule, and also the reasoning behind the Big Ten playing conference games the week after Thanksgiving. While proponents argue that the location helps extend the conference’s geographic footprint, the script of the Big Ten season has been inconsistent scheduling and reduced rest and practice time between games, which has been a reality for all of the teams in the conference. Now, the Buckeyes will have had four full days of rest before taking on Indiana.
Ohio State’s points off the bench Thursday against Penn State. Against Nebraska, they had just three, courtesy of Andre Wesson, and there were just eight versus Nebraska. In fact, it was against Northwestern nearly two weeks ago that there was any appreciable production by the bench as it totalled for 22 points, led by Micah Potter’s 13. While starters certainly need to lead in production, and Keita Bates-Diop, C.J. Jackson and Jae’Sean Tate have consistently answered to that calling throughout the season, it also helps to have a player who is able to get hot off the bench. Grad transfer Andrew Dakich has been able to come in and find a rhythm at points throughout the season, as has Potter. With starters playing so many minutes, especially with a compressed schedule, the bench needs to be more reliable to give the front five the relative rest they need to recover for the remainder of conference play.
Pretty much everything associated with three-pointers is terrible for Indiana. IU is 13th of 14 teams in three-point field goal percentage, connecting on just 30.5 percent of their shots, and dead last in defending the three, giving up nearly 38 percent of attempts from range. The Hoosiers connect on an average of just six threes per game. Robert Johnson is Indiana’s most consistent threat from range, averaging 1.9 three-pointers per outing. Ohio State is middle of the road when it comes to three-point attempts, and is seventh in the conference in both percentage made (36.3 percent) and defense (34.1 percent). Moreover, Kam Williams is one of the best shooters in the league from range, connecting on 47 percent of attempts. Keita Bates-Diop and C.J. Jackson also bring a strong game from behind the arc, hitting an average of two threes per game.
Cast of characters
Yes, again. The junior forward almost missed the Penn State game due to illness, but wound up leading his team in scoring once again in the Buckeyes’ loss. He still leads the Big Ten in scoring with 19.9 points per game and is third in rebounds, pulling down 8.6 boards per outing. The junior has improved his overall game, especially compared to his last complete season in 2015-16. His two-point, three-point, and free throw shooting percentages have all increased appreciably since 2016. On the other end of the court, Bates-Diop is the best shot blocker on the team (1.7 per game), one of the best defensive rebounders in the conference (7.1 per outing) and the team leader in steals (1.1 per game). He is well on his way to a legitimate shot at being Ohio State’s first Big Ten Player of the Year since Evan Turner in 2010.
The senior guard has been somewhat in the shadows this season behind the likes of Bates-Diop, Jae’Sean Tate and C.J. Jackson, but that doesn’t make his contribution any less impactful. Williams is, and has always been, a strong three-point shooter, and this season is one of the top shooters from beyond the arc in the Big Ten. In fact, he is fifth in program history in career three-point field goals made with 160. This will be Williams’ 126th outing as a Buckeye. He is on his way to joining the 1,000 point club, having amassed 963 career points. Williams has started 15 of 23 games this season, including every Big Ten game, but has been rather inconsistent in his offensive production. Against Nebraska, he was 0-for-3 from the field and didn’t even have a three-point attempt in 20 minutes on the floor.
The senior shooting guard has always been a very good player for Indiana but, in many ways like Marc Loving, not quite good enough to satiate his fan base. He started 33 games as a freshman and has continued to be a leader on the Hoosiers as a four-year player. This season, Johnson, a Richmond native, is averaging 14 points per game along with 4.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists. Against Purdue, the senior had 21 points on 8-for-16 shooting, six rebounds and three assists in 36 minutes of play. He was one of Indiana’s most aggressive defenders against one of the nation’s top shooting teams. Unfortunately for Johnson, two turnovers and two missed field goals in the final minutes against the Boilermakers proved costly mistakes that mirrored Indiana’s inability to close out games this season. While he has been a solid player throughout his career, Johnson has 57 turnovers this season to just 55 assists, and has been prone to making mistakes late in the game.
Despite dropping two of their last three matchups, Morgan has had at least 20 points in each game. Morgan, a junior forward, led the Hoosiers against Purdue with 24 points and seven rebounds on the day as Purdue’s big men seemed unable to match up with him. He even earned the praise of Purdue head coach Matt Painter, who called the junior “a mismatch nightmare.” This surging performance, however, is something new for the third-year player. Last season, Morgan averaged under eight points per game. As a freshman, it was less than three. This year, he has increased his production to a team-high 16.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game while shooting nearly 60 percent from the field. While Keita Bates-Diop gets (deservedly) much of the credit as the most improved player in the Big Ten this year, Morgan is up there in the impact he has brought to his team, especially in conference play.
How to watch
Game time: 7 p.m. EST
Radio: 97.1 WBNS-FM