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Five things we learned from No. 22 Ohio State’s 67-61 win over Cleveland State

What did the Buckeyes look like without their leading scorer and rebounder?

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State fans expected this weekend to be focused on beating their football rival for the nintyzillionth time in a row, but with The Game canceled on the gridiron, the only major Buckeye action of the weekend came at the Value City Arena on Sunday as the No. 22 Ohio State men’s basketball team (5-0) hosted Cleveland State (0-3).

Though things were slow and sloppy throughout, Chris Holtmann’s squad ended up securing their fifth win of the season in a hard-fought 67-61 victory. Duane Washington led the way for the Buckeyes — thanks to some key free throws down the stretch — with 17 points in the contest.

While their resume might not have indicated it before hand, the Vikings presented an incredibly stiff test for a Buckeye team getting ready to open their conference season later this week and playing without arguably their most important player. With OSU’s first Big Ten contest coming up on Wednesday as the Buckeyes visit Purdue, we are running through what we learned from Sunday’s early-season, intra-state matchup.

Can anyone replace E.J.?

On Friday, the Buckeyes announced that coming off of a career day against Notre Dame, E.J. Liddell would be out indefinitely due to a non-COVID illness. Adam Jardy reported in the Columbus Dispatch that the illness in question was mononucleosis, and as the broadcast got underway, the Big Ten Network’s Dave Revsine confirmed the diagnosis, adding that Holtmann was hoping to get him back on the floor in a week or so.

However, without the sophomore big man, that meant that OSU would have to find a replacement for the team’s leading scorer and rebounder. Duane Washington Jr. (17) and CJ Walker (16) led the way in terms of points, but that is very much in keeping in line with their 14.3 and 12.5 points per game averages.

From a post-perspective, Holtmann turned to Zed Key, Musa Jallow, and Kyle Young to varying degrees. I’ll talk more about Young in a little bit, but Key was the player that stepped up the most on Sunday. The freshman brought a ton of energy to the floor, and picked up the first double-double of his career with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Key doesn’t have the experience and physicality that Liddell does, but he showed on Sunday that he has the ability to play an important role for this team throughout.

Apple or cherry?

Whether it was the absence of Liddell or just the Vikes’ natural scrapiness, Ohio State committed six turnovers in the first half, which is noteworthy, because they were only averaging 8.5 per game coming into the contest. That number was the 315th fewest out of the 319 Division I men’s teams currently playing college basketball.

However, the Bucks were in a similar situation against Notre Dame on Tuesday, where they were turned over six times in the first 20 minutes before coughing it up only twice after halftime.

However, against Cleveland State on Sunday, Holtmann’s crew continued giving it away in the second half, ending the game with 10 turnovers, tied for the most in the season. In a game without their best statistical player and against an energetic, defensively focused team, that created problems for OSU.

While the Vikings only turned those take-aways into eight points, they also meant that they ended 10 Ohio State possessions in a game in which they needed every opportunity to score.

Is Seth-a Klaus Coming to Towns?

(I’m sorry, I’m trying to delete it)

We have been teased by Holtmann, OSU’s social media, and Seth Towns himself, but the former Ivy League Player of the Year still has not made his debut for his hometown Buckeyes. Towns went through pre-game warm-ups against Morehead State back on Dec. 2, but did not play.

With Liddell out, it would have been nice for the 6-foot-8 Towns to make his OSU debut on Sunday, but the Northland High School alum did not appear yet again. Holtmann has cautioned that Towns will still need to shake off an ample amount of rust following two years off due to injuries, so there should be a level of caution when it comes to Towns eventually joining the lineup.

However, with the Buckeyes facing the Boilermakers on Wednesday, then No. 16 North Carolina and No. 21 Rutgers, it would be nice to have another veteran body in the rotation, even if it is one that has to be eased back into action.

The Paint was Dry

We knew that with Liddell out of the game, the Buckeyes were not going to be as strong inside as they have been through the first four games of the season. Coming into Sunday’s game against Cleveland State, OSU was outscoring opponents 126-64 in the paint, however, that trend did not continue on Sunday

On the offensive end, part of the problem for the Buckeyes was the fact that they were just 10-for-15 on layups and didn’t have any dunks on the afternoon. That was also evidenced by the fact that OSU had only sic second-chance points, their fewest on the year. It also didn’t help that nearly half of the team’s attempts from the field were from three-point range (21 of their 52 total shots), and they only made six.

On the afternoon, Cleveland State outscored the Buckeyes 34-22 in the paint, a dramatic turnaround from their first four games.

What’s Up with Kyle Young?

Last season, Kyle Young was Ohio State’s co-spark plug along with Andre Wesson. Young averaged 7.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, and shot a team-best 58.5% from the floor. With Andre Wesson and his little brother Kaleb now gone, the assumption was that Young would step up and fill the production void left by their departures.

However, that has yet to come to fruition. In the first four games, Young’s numbers weren’t all that different than they were last year, averaging 6.8 points and 7.3 boards, but his shooting percentage is down dramatically. Coming into Sunday, he was shooting just 37.5%, thanks in part to going 1-for-6 from three-point territory; he was 2-for-13 from distance in the entirety of the 2019-20 season.

Coming off of the win over the Irish and with Liddell out, I assumed that Young would use the game against Cleveland State as an opportunity to establish himself as an important part of the team. However, two fouls in the first half limited his time, and he didn’t get much run in the second half either, clocking only 16 minutes on the day.

In those minutes, the senior forward did not score and ended the contest with just two rebounds. Young still found ways to mix things up and force turnovers and jump-balls as he is often wont to do, but he was a non-factor when it came to scoring, and that’s not good for the long-term prognosis of the team.

Whether Liddell is out for a prolonged period of time or not, Kyle Young needs to step up. Going scoreless against Cleveland State is not going to cut it from one of your supposed senior leaders.