Ohio State men’s basketball has already won a game this season that many expected them to lose. If they wish to advance to 3-0, they will have to do it again. The Buckeyes (2-0) will hit the road Thursday night to take on Creighton (2-0) in the CHI Health Center. The game will be broadcast at 7:00 p.m. on Fox Sports 1 as part of the 2018 Gavitt Tipoff Games.
Ohio State absolutely dismantled Purdue Fort Wayne in their last time out, knocking off the Mastodons 107-61.
The game was actually very closely contested in the first half, as the Bucks held a narrow 41-34 lead at the break. C.J. Jackson, the only senior in OSU’s starting lineup, led the charge out of halftime, knocking down three shots from deep in the first four minutes of the second period. The Buckeye defense put the clamps on the remainder of the way, holding Fort Wayne to 27 second-half points on 34 percent shooting.
Jackson’s 25 points led all scorers, but perhaps the most impressive part of Ohio State’s performance was the production out of the freshmen. Duane Washington Jr. dropped 20 off the bench on the strength of a nice 6-of-9 shooting from deep — tying the program record for a freshman — while Jaedon LeDee scored 16 with 4 blocks in 13 minutes in his first taste of action as a Buckeye. Luther Muhammad, also a freshman, held Fort Wayne’s best player John Konchar to just 13 points on 6-of-15 from the field, while scoring 12 of his own.
Ohio State shot an impressive 53.6 percent from behind the arc, knocking down 15-of-28 from three-point land. For the second straight game the defense was stifling, holding both of their first two opponents to under 65 points and a shooting percentage under 35 percent. This extremely young Buckeye team is still getting accustomed to playing with one another, but you can already see the beginnings of the freshmen learning to gel with the upperclassmen. After recording only seven assists against Cincinnati, Ohio State finished with 21 against the Mastodons.
Creighton is coming off of a 75-69 win over East Tennessee State, struggling at home in a game that they were favored by over 10 points. Led by sophomore guard Ty-Shon Alexander’s career-high 20 points, the Bluejays closed the game out on a 24-6 run to knock off the Buccaneers and remain undefeated in the early goings of the new season. As a team they were actually quite efficient, knocking down over 54 percent of shots from the field while hitting on 9-of-15 from deep. However, the undersized Bluejays were out-rebounded 40-22, allowing ETSU to keep it competitive throughout the contest.
Creighton is returning eight lettermen and two starters from last year’s team that went 21-12, finishing third in the Big East and making the NCAA Tournament as an eight seed, losing in the first round to eventual Elite Eight team Kansas State. Alexander is the Bluejays leading scorer this year, averaging 16 points per game and shooting over 50 percent. The trio of sophomores including Alexander, Mitch Ballock (11.5 PPG) and Damien Jefferson (11 PPG) have combined to score over half of Creighton’s points this season.
As a team, the Bluejays have hit 20-of-38 from behind the arc to start the year. Similar to OSU, they are a very undersized team with an emphasis on defense. Ohio State leads the all-time series between the two teams 5-3, but Creighton has been the victor in the last two meetings — most recently a 65-63 Bluejays OT win in 2004. Creighton head coach Greg McDermott has faced off against Chris Holtmann six times (all when Holtmann was at Butler) going 3-3 against the Buckeyes’ second-year head coach.
Following the firing of former head coach Thad Matta, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith had initially been rebuffed by Holtmann, and was in the process of pursuing McDermott when the then-Butler coach changed his mind and decided to make the jump to Columbus.
Vegas Line (as of Wednesday night): OSU -2.5
ESPN BPI: Creighton 57.3%
Despite ESPN BPI favoring the Bluejays, it is the Buckeyes that find themselves as the favorite in the game according to Vegas. On paper, Ohio State has had a better start to the season than Creighton despite both being 2-0. The Bucks have scored more points per game (85.5 to 76.5), allowed fewer points (58.5 to 68) and shot at a higher percentage (52.4 to 49.5).
The Bluejays haven’t exactly impressed to start the season, winning neither of their opening two matchups against subpar teams by more than nine. Ohio State, conversely, won a tough in-state rivalry game on the road in their opener before blowing out the Mastodons on Sunday. Just by looking at the way the two teams are trending, it would appear as though the Buckeyes could very well extend their win streak to begin the year.
The Bucks have already weathered a hostile environment once this season, one that will likely be more intense than that of Creighton. The freshmen seem to be oozing confidence as the team continues to build cohesion, and Jackson is playing out of his mind. Look for this one to be more of a defensive bout, with Kaleb Wesson putting up a big night against the smaller Bluejays roster. After a closely-contested opening period, Ohio State prevails in the second half.