Before hosting Syracuse on Wednesday night in the annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge, No. 23 Ohio State will take on their second in-state opponent of the year tonight when they host Cleveland State. The Buckeyes entered the AP Poll earlier this week for the first time this season, and they’ll look to stay in the top 25 and avoid a second loss in school history to the Vikings.
For “Throwback Night,” Ohio State returns to the place that they called home from 1956-98 to take on Cleveland State tonight. The Buckeyes posted a 431-151 record at St. John Arena before moving to Value City Arena following the 1997-98 season. The last time that Ohio State played at St. John Arena was back in 2010, when they defeated Western Carolina 85-60.
With their victory on Tuesday night, Ohio State moved to 5-0 on the young season, but the game was a lot tougher than many expected. Four starters from the previous four games of the season were relegated to the bench to start the game after they were late for “game-day preparation.” Guard C.J. Jackson was the only regular starter to remain in the opening lineup for the tip against Samford.
The changes in the starting lineup left Ohio State out of sync early, leading to the Buckeyes trailing by as many as seven points in the first half. Ohio State took the lead for the first time in the game midway through the first period, but they couldn’t make it stick, heading into halftime trailing the Bulldogs 32-29.
The Buckeyes came out of the halftime break refocused and finally took the lead for good with 12:06 left in the game. After taking the lead, Ohio State was able to assert its dominance, finally pulling away from Samford to secure the 18-point win. The Buckeyes were led in scoring by Kaleb Wesson, who tied a career-high with 19 points off of the bench. Keyshawn Woods was the only other Ohio State player to reach double figures, adding 14.
With Wesson’s 19 points, Ohio State was able to continue their outstanding production off of the bench to begin the season. The Buckeyes are averaging 35 bench points per game, which ranks 19th in the country. Their 40-point effort from their bench players against Samford marked the second time this year in which Ohio State’s bench registered at least 40 points in a game.
Tonight’s contest will be the second of three games this year in which Ohio State will square off against an in-state opponent. After beating Cincinnati in the season opener, the Buckeyes raised their record to 233-79 against fellow Buckeye State teams. Since the 1995-96 season, Ohio State has won 25 of 26 games against teams from Ohio, with the only loss during that span coming against Dayton in the 2014 NCAA Tournament. The final Ohio team on Ohio State’s schedule this year is Youngstown State, who will come to Columbus on Dec 18.
Ohio State has found plenty of success against Horizon League teams over the years, posting a 24-1 record against squads currently in the conference. The one blemish on Ohio State’s record came back in 1994 against the team they’ll be playing tonight, Cleveland State. The win by the Vikings was the only time in eight meetings in which they have topped the Buckeyes. The last time these two teams met came back in 2009, when David Lighty scored 30 points in the 72-59 Ohio State win.
Cleveland State enters tonight’s game trying to shake off a 73-60 loss to Samford on Sunday. The setback snapped a two-game winning streak the Vikings had put together after dropping their first two games of the season. Sophomore forward Stefan Kenic scored a team-high 15 points in the loss for Cleveland State, while Dibaji Walker added 10 points off of the bench.
Some of Cleveland State’s early season struggles can be credited to a lot of new players still trying to find their role on the team. Eight of the 12 players on Cleveland State’s roster are in their first season with the school.
Kenic has the most returning experience of any Cleveland State player, starting 31 games last year, while sophomore guard Tyree Appleby started 26 games in 2017-18 for the Vikings. The Vikings have seven players this year that are seeing between 16.4 and 23.6 minutes per game this year.
Appleby is the player Ohio State will have to keep their eye on the most tonight. The sophomore was named Preseason All-Horizon League First Team, and is leading the Vikings in scoring with 13.8 points per game. The guard notched a career-high earlier in the season with 28 points against Kent State, and hit double figures in the following two games against Urbana and South Carolina State.
While they have struggled to start the season, one of the things that Cleveland State has done well so far is get to the free throw line. The Vikings have attempted 128 free throws through five games, which ranks in the top 25 among Division I teams. Appleby has attempted 25 free throws so far this year, which is the most by a Cleveland State player, while Kenic and Algevon Eichelberger have each attempted 20 free throws.
Much like Ohio State, Cleveland State has gotten a lot of production off their bench so far this year. The Vikings have outscored all five of their opponents this season in terms of bench scoring, and hold a 156-74 edge overall. Jaalam Hill is Cleveland State’s leading scorer off of the bench with 48 points this year, while Rashad Williams has added 47 points.
The Vikings are coached by Dennis Felton, who is in his second season at the helm. This is Felton’s third head coaching position at the Division I level, coaching Western Kentucky from 1998-2003 before moving on to Georgia, where he coached from 2003-09. After a number of stops in the NBA, Felton returned to college as an assistant at Tulsa, where he spent three years on Frank Haith’s staff before accepting an offer to become head coach at Cleveland State.
Felton has led his teams to four NCAA Tournament appearance in his head coaching career, with three of those coming at Western Kentucky. The lone NCAA Tournament appearance while Felton was at Georgia was a memorable one, as the Bulldogs won four games in three days to win the SEC Tournament and secure the conference’s automatic bid. Now Felton is tasked with trying to take the Vikings back to the NCAA Tournament, where they have two previous appearances. The last time Cleveland State made the NCAA Tournament was in 2009.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 96.5%
The Buckeyes close out their participation in the Buckeye Basketball Classic tonight and should make it a clean sweep over the four other teams involved. Barring anymore lateness, Ohio State should have their normal starting lineup back, but expect to see more heavy participation from the bench.
Freshmen Duane Washington Jr., Luther Muhammad, and Jaedon LeDee have each hit double figures on the score sheet in multiple games this year, and there’s no reason for that trend not to continue against a Cleveland State team that is still trying to find themselves.
What will be interesting to see from Ohio State tonight is if C.J. Jackson can break out of his recent struggles. After posting 25 points in the win over Purdue Fort Wayne, the senior guard from Charlotte is just 6-26 from the field over his past three games. With a tough contest against Syracuse on the schedule next for the Buckeyes, Ohio State is going to need Jackson to find his shot sooner rather than later.