The No. 23 Ohio State Buckeyes, fresh off a convincing 94-67 win over Illinois State on Wednesday, will try to extend their season-opening win streak to two games on Sunday against UMass-Lowell. The River Hawks, who just lost to Illinois State 82-72 yesterday, will now try to recover by beating the Buckeyes, which would be their biggest win in program history if they can pull it off. Ohio State beat UMass-Lowell 76-56 last year in Columbus.
Chris Holtmann’s squad opened the 2020 season with a bang on Wednesday afternoon, jumping out to a 22-0 lead early against Illinois State and never looking back. Justice Sueing led Ohio State in scoring his first time donning the scarlet and gray, as he dropped 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting. Sueing was one of five Buckeyes to score in double digits, but as a unit the Buckeyes only shot 48.4% from the floor, including a very pedestrian 33.3% from beyond the arc.
The difference for Ohio State on Wednesday afternoon was their scoring in the paint, as a whopping 50 of their 94 points came below the basket. The biggest surprise was freshman Zed Key, who scored 12 points on 3-of-4 shooting while pulling down 5 rebounds. He also blocked a shot. The 6-foot-8, 245 pound Long Island native made a strong first impression, showing Buckeye fans many of the same traits that have made them love Kyle Young for the past four years.
Expect Ohio State to try and establish dominance in the paint yet again versus an overmatched opponent, as that formula worked well against Illinois State. Chris Holtmann cannot be thrilled with the Buckeyes’ overall shooting percentage Wednesday, so their shot selection is something to keep an eye on. We also may see more of Musa Jallow and Jimmy Sotos today, as they played just 13 and 10 minutes on Wednesday, respectively.
As noted earlier, UMass-Lowell will play their second game in two days on, having just lost to Illinois State yesterday. Senior Obadiah Noel led the River Hawks in scoring, dropping an impressive 35 points on 12-of-19 shooting. Noel averaged 18.2 points per game last season.
Ohio State won the matchup between the two teams last year, winning 76-56 on Nov. 10, 2019. Noel led UMass-Lowell in scoring that day with 15 points. The Buckeyes were led by Kaleb Wesson (now with the Golden State Warriors), who scored 13 points while pulling down 13 rebounds.
UMass-Lowell head coach Pat Duquette is looking for a different result this year, and a win would be the biggest victory on both his resume and for his basketball program in general. Since jumping from Division II to Division I in 2013, UMass-Lowell has never finished higher than fifth in the America East Conference.
Their best win in program history came four days ago, when they beat San Francisco 76-68. San Francisco is ranked No. 84 according to KenPom, which is their first ever win against a KenPom top-100 team. Their previous best was when they beat Vermont (151) during the 2015-2016 season. Duquette and his River Hawks have never been to the NCAA Tournament, but a win against the 23rd-ranked team in the nation (No. 10 according to KenPom) would certainly sweeten their resume.
The Buckeyes, on the other hand, will try to avoid a massive stumble against a team they have to beat. UMass-Lowell is KenPom’s 224th-ranked team, and that is a stain that Ohio State cannot have on their tournament resume — especially considering how strong the Big Ten is going to be this season. There will be some speed bumps ahead, but Holtmann knows that Sunday’s opponent cannot be one of them.
Note: This game will be played in the Covelli Center on Ohio State’s campus due to multiple athletic schedules overlapping this weekend.
This will be Ohio State’s first time playing an official game in the Covelli Center, which is a brand new facility and the home of Ohio State’s wrestling and gymnastics teams. While I don’t expect a change in venue to impact the outcome of this game, it could take the Buckeyes a few minutes to adjust.
UMass-Lowell has better size than Illinois State, but expect the Buckeyes to once again attack the post early and try to get ahead with high-percentage looks. That means E.J. Liddell and Justice Sueing could be used often in the early minutes of this one.
At 6-foot-4, Obadiah Noel may present a bit of a matchup problem for Ohio State’s starting guard duo of CJ Walker and Duane Washington Jr. Because of this, do not be surprised if Sueing is switched onto the aforementioned Noel. Jallow could also sub in earlier if Noel becomes an issue.
Ohio State is far too talented to lose this game, and doing so would give them even less wiggle room once the Big Ten schedule rolls around. UMass-Lowell does not have the depth or talent to stop all of the weapons at Chris Holtmann’s disposal, and this game will most likely be over by halftime.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 91.5%
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