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Ohio State men’s basketball vs Cleveland State: Game preview and prediction

Chris Holtmann’s squad will be a bit short-handed as they look to start 5-0 for the third straight season.

AP- Paul Vernon

It wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t pretty, but Ohio State withstood an early surge from Notre Dame on Tuesday night before pulling away in the second half for their fourth victory of the season.

Powered by E.J. Liddell’s first double-double of the year (19 points, 12 rebounds), the Buckeyes overcame an eight-point halftime deficit, knocking off the Fighting Irish 90-85. Ohio State’s 90 points was their second-highest output of the season, behind the 94 they scored against Illinois State on Nov. 25.

Five Buckeyes scored in double digits Tuesday night, but they will likely be without the services of Liddell for at least a few games. On Friday afternoon, Ohio State announced that Liddell is out “indefinitely” due to a non-COVID related illness.


Preview

With no Liddell and potentially no Seth Towns, Chris Holtmann will likely turn to Musa Jallow or Justin Ahrens to start this afternoon, both of whom had excellent showings vs the Fighting Irish.

Jallow — who missed the previous two games with a lower leg injury — scored seven points on 3-of-5 shooting to go along with two rebounds and a steal in 22 minutes. He recorded the best +/- of any Buckeye at +10, contributing on both ends of the floor throughout the night. It was the first time this season he looked comfortable playing at full speed, as he missed all of last season following ankle surgery, in addition to missing the previous two games with an unrelated lower leg injury. Jallow is an elite defender who can guard multiple positions, and contributes on the offensive end with eye-popping athleticism.

Ahrens, who never seemed to find a consistent place in Holtmann’s rotation during his first two seasons, scored 12 points on Tuesday coming in the form of four three-pointers. He shot 4-of-6 from the floor, and also recorded one block, steal, and rebound each. Ahrens showed improvement on the defensive end as well, and was rewarded with minutes late in the second half as Ohio State mounted their comeback. Ahrens has yet to blossom into an elite defender, but he’s shown he can hold his ground enough to warrant a start while Liddell is out.

The Buckeyes could get reinforcements in the form of the aforementioned Towns as well, as Holtmann told the media on Dec. 4 that he was “day to day” and could potentially return at any time. There have not been any updates since then, but Towns is practicing at near-full capacity with the team. With their showdown with North Carolina looming on the horizon, Holtmann could look to get Towns some minutes this week against Cleveland State and Purdue so that he is warmed up and ready to roll against the Tar Heels next weekend.

The Buckeyes and Vikings last met on Nov. 23, 2018 in St. John Arena, where Ohio State dispatched CSU 89-62 in front of a full house inside their old basketball home. The 23rd-ranked Buckeyes were led by Kaleb Wesson’s 19 points, with Andre Wesson, CJ Jackson, and Luther Muhammad all scoring in double digits as well.

Cleveland State is 0-2 to start the season after falling to former OSU assistant Jeff Boals’ Ohio University squad 101-46 last Sunday. Junior forward Deante Johnson led the Vikings with nine points on 3-of-5 shooting. Ohio went on an NCAA Record 40-0 run in the middle of the game and never looked back, trouncing the Vikings and sending them home empty-handed and still winless on the year.

CSU’s leading scorer this season is a 6-foot-7 freshman Jayson Woodrich, hailing from nearby Beachwood, Ohio. However, Woodrich has been less than efficient, shooting 35.3% overall en route to his 9.0 points per game. The Vikings don’t have a single player averaging double digits, and only one player who averages more than two assists per game.

As a team, they turn the ball over two times for every assist recorded (9:18 assist to turnover ratio), suggesting subpar and inexperienced guard play. The three guards in their starting lineup — Craig Beaudion, Torrey Patton, and Alec Ogelsby — have combined for six assists compared to 12 turnovers. That simply is not going to get the job done against a talented team like Ohio University, and certainly not against the 22nd-ranked Buckeyes if they want to pull off the upset.

Cleveland State is the 248th-best team in the country according to KenPom, and following their game against Ohio State that is likely to drop a bit more. They went 11-21 last season, finishing seventh in the Horizon League. Cleveland State has not won their conference since 2011, and have not been to the NCAA Tournament since 2009.

Needless to say, this is not a game Ohio State can afford to lose, and despite the absence of Liddell, the Buckeyes should not have too much trouble with the Vikings this afternoon.


Prediction

College basketball is magical because on any given day, a great team can fall. If you don’t show up, you will lose. But even with no E.J. Liddell, Ohio State should have absolutely no problem vanquishing their in-state foes on Sunday afternoon. Look for Holtmann to get Jallow, Ahrens, and Zed Key some additional minutes with Liddell out.

Ohio State’s shooting woes against UMass-Lowell a few games ago seemed to have faded away, and Chris Holtman’s squad looks to be rounding into form right as Big Ten play is set to begin. Cleveland State will march into Columbus looking for their first win of the year, but they’re not going to find it here.

ESPN BPI: Ohio State 95.2%
4:00 p.m. ET
TV: BTN

LGHL Score Prediction: 92-56 Ohio State