Tonight is the marquee home game of Ohio State’s non-conference schedule when they host the Syracuse Orange. As if the Buckeyes didn’t have enough motivation to stop a four-game skid in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, but Ohio State will be honoring former head coach Thad Matta, who racked up 337 wins with the school, at halftime.
After easily dispatching Cleveland State 89-62 on Friday night at St. John Arena, Ohio State returns to Value City Arena to take on Syracuse in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Last year Ohio State also hosted an ACC team, falling to Clemson 79-65. The last win by the Buckeyes in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge came back in 2013, when Ohio State beat Maryland 76-60 in Columbus.
The victory over the Vikings on Friday night gave the Buckeyes their first 6-0 start since 2016-17. The unfamiliar confines of St. John Arena didn’t affect Ohio State too much, as the Buckeyes had one of their best shooting nights of the young season, tying a season-high with 34 field goals made.
After seeing tremendous bench production throughout the first five games of the year, Ohio State’s starters shouldered more on the load in the win over Cleveland State. Four of Friday night’s five starters reached double figures in scoring against the Vikings, with the only one to fail to hit that mark being Kyle Young, who finished the game with eight points.
Kaleb Wesson continued his strong start to his sophomore season, tying a career-high for the second straight game with 19 points. C.J. Jackson broke out of a recent slump, finishing with 17 points in the victory, snapping a streak of three straight games in which he failed to hit double figures in the scoring column.
Wesson is leading Ohio State this year with 14.7 points per game. After hitting just four three-pointers all of last season, Wesson has already hit five three-pointers this year. Another area the sophomore has improved has been on the boards, where he is averaging nearly a full rebound more than he did last season.
Another benefit of the boost in production by Kaleb Wesson has been improved play of his older brother, Andre. After failing to reach double figures in scoring in any game last year, Andre has scored 11 points in Ohio State’s victories over South Carolina State and Cleveland State.
Before opening up Big Ten play on Sunday at home against Minnesota, Ohio State must turn their attention to the Orange. The two schools have met on seven previous occasions, with the Buckeyes holding a 5-2 edge in the series. The last meeting between the two schools came in 2012 East Regional Final, which Ohio State won 77-70 to secure a spot in the Final Four. The last regular season meeting between Ohio State and Syracuse came back in 2007, when the Buckeyes defeated the Orange 79-65 to advance to the final of the NIT Season Tip-Off.
Last year in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, Syracuse halted a three-game losing streak in the event by defeating Maryland 72-70 at the Carrier Dome. Before beating the Terrapins, Syracuse had lost twice to Wisconsin and once to Michigan after beating Indiana in 2013 in Bloomington in their debut in the event after moving to the ACC from the Big East.
The Orange started the season ranked 16th in the Preseason AP Top 25 Poll, but losses to UConn and Oregon have bounced Jim Boeheim’s team from the rankings. Syracuse was able to halt their losing streak last time out, beating Colgate 77-56 at the Carrier Dome last Wednesday.
Syracuse is led by guard Tyus Battle, who scored a season-high 24 points against the Raiders. After leading the Orange in scoring last year with 19.2 points per game, Battle is again pacing Syracuse, averaging 17.6 points per game through five games this season. Expectations are high for the junior guard, as Battle was named to the Preseason All-ACC First Team.
Battle doesn’t have to shoulder the whole load for the Orange though, as forwards Elijah Hughes and Oshae Brissett are both averaging 14.8 points per game. This year is Hughes’ first season with the Orange after transferring from East Carolina, and the redshirt junior has taken little time to find his place with the team, scoring in double figures in each of the last four games.
After Jim Boeheim plucked Barrett from Ontario, the forward made quite an impact in his freshman year, finishing with 14.9 points per game. Barrett hasn’t missed a beat to start his sophomore season with Syracuse. Along with his scoring prowess, Barrett is a threat on the boards, averaging a team-high 8.2 rebounds per game so far this year.
Constructing Syracuse’s game plan to try and hand Ohio State their first loss of the season will be legendary head coach Jim Boeheim, whose first season with the Orange came all the way back in 1976. Not only has Boeheim posted a 929-373 record at Syracuse, but he has also led the Orange to five Final Four appearances, as well as the school’s lone national title in 2003. Boeheim’s 929 wins rank second all-time among Division I men’s college basketball coaches, only trailing Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 68.4%
Ohio State will have a tough test in front of them if they want to stay undefeated. The Buckeyes will need Kaleb Wesson to continue his solid play to start the season, along with C.J. Jackson to build off his performance on Friday night against Cleveland State.
The deciding factor in tonight’s game could very well come down to bench production. Ohio State has consistently gotten strong contributions from their bench through the first six games this year, outscoring their opponents’ bench by 104 points. The Orange have only reached double figures in bench scoring in two of their five games this year, with their season-high of 22 points coming in their season opening win against Eastern Washington.
With a couple of close contests under their belt already this year, Ohio State should be able to secure a hard-fought win tonight against the Orange, and end their losing streak in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Emotions will be high with the Buckeyes honoring Thad Matta at halftime, so expect an inspired performance from Ohio State.