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Ohio State men’s basketball vs. Bucknell: Game preview, prediction

With two conference wins under their belts, the Buckeyes come back home to face the Bison.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round: Bucknell Bison vs Michigan State Spartans Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

After a 10-day hiatus to accommodate for finals, the No. 15 Ohio State Buckeyes men’s basketball team returns to action as it faces Bucknell today in Columbus. Earlier this month, Ohio State earned wins over Minnesota and Illinois to start off its conference slate on a positive note, but the Buckeyes return to the non-conference schedule as they face the Bison at noon on BTN. The Bison are first in a four-game stretch—which includes another trip to the United Center to face UCLA, a Kenpom top-50 team—before the Buckeyes return to conference play in January.

Preview

The Buckeyes are sitting at 8-1 on the season, their lone loss coming to now-No. 25 Syracuse in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Among those eight wins are three against current Kenpom top-60 teams, including Cincinnati (No. 29), Creighton (No. 39) and Minnesota (No. 58). Their tournament résumé is strong so far, but it’ll be tested come the restart of conference play in January.

The Big Ten will be a tough conference to get through this season, with six teams ranked in the top-25 and four more receiving votes. Through two games, Ohio State has established itself as one of the teams to beat in the conference, tied with four other teams at 2-0 in their respective conference slates.

But the rest of the Big Ten will have to wait. The Buckeyes have four more games to fine-tune their craft before their battle against ninth-ranked Michigan State in January, but what Chris Holtmann’s team did against Minnesota and Illinois should be a nice preview.

Most recently on the road at the United Center in Chicago, the Buckeyes struggled in the first half against the Illini as they headed into the break down by four. But that’s when graduate transfer guard Keyshawn Woods stepped up, scoring a dozen points in the second half to push Ohio State ahead for a 77-67 win.

Woods finished with a team-high 18 points coming off the bench. Sophomore forward Kaleb Wesson added 13 points and seven rebounds while sophomore guard Musa Jallow, also off the bench, tied his season-high with 11 points and a team-high nine rebounds on the night. In all, 40 of Ohio State’s 77 points came off the bench. Despite his injury, freshman guard Luther Muhammad played 35 minutes against the Illini, providing a boost with his six points.

As a team, the Buckeyes shot 47 percent from the field, including 35 percent from three-point range, while holding the Illini under 33 percent shooting on the night. Unfortunately, Ohio State committed 19 turnovers to the Illini’s 14.

The Bison, meanwhile, are 4-3 on the season, having won three of their last four. Moreover, three of those wins have come on the road. Like Ohio State, the Bison have had more than a week off to rest as they prepare to close out the year.

Most recently, after a closely-fought first half, Bucknell ran away with a 92-79 win over La Salle on the road. Senior forward Nate Sestina led the effort on behalf of the Bison, scoring 24 points on 8-of-12 shooting. Senior guard Kimbal Mackenzie added 19 more along with six rebounds. Overall, Bucknell shot 56 percent from the field, including 46 percent from three-point range, with a whopping 21 assists on the day.

On the season, Sestina leads the Bison in scoring, despite missing two games to injury earlier in the year. He is averaging 17 points and nine rebounds per game, and is closely followed by Mackenzie, who is scoring 16.1 per game. As a team, Bucknell is shooting nearly 46 percent on field goals and 36 percent from range.

Nathan Davis is in his fourth season as head coach at Bucknell, having put together a 72-36 overall record. More impressively, Davis has gone 49-9 in the Patriot League during his tenure, winning the conference for three-consecutive seasons and earning bids to the NCAA Tournament the last two years.

Prediction

ESPN BPI: Ohio State 91.4%

Ohio State and Bucknell haven’t squared off since 1986, when the Buckeyes earned a 90-62 win over the Bison in Columbus. The Buckeyes are 21-3 all-time against members of the Patriot League, but the last time Ohio State faced a Patriot League opponent was back in 2016.

With Muhammad back in the lineup (as it turns out, he only missed the Buckeyes’ matchup with Minnesota with a dislocated shoulder), Ohio State gains a fierce defender on the court. Muhammad is averaging nearly nine points per game in his first collegiate season. He has a big opportunity to continue to grow throughout the season, but he has been just as tough a defender as the Buckeyes could have hoped for this season.

The Buckeyes look to be a well-rounded squad overall as the team gets one of its top defenders back. And well-rounded is probably the best term for it, since there really are no standout stars on the squad. Kaleb Wesson and C.J. Jackson provide consistent scoring, but the fact that the bulk of the Buckeyes’ points don’t come from a single offensive weapon makes them that much harder to defend.

LGHL Final Score Prediction: Ohio State 81-59