The AP Top 25 Poll came out Monday afternoon, with the Buckeyes holding steady at No. 23. They should feel lucky, because Sunday’s showing against UMass-Lowell (that everyone, including myself, thought would be an easy victory) ended up as just a 74-64 win.
It was not the effort of a top-25 team or an NCAA Tournament-caliber team, especially on the offensive end. Ohio State shot 34% from the floor in the first half, including 0-for-8 from beyond the arc. The Buckeyes hit four of their 10 threes in the second half, still finishing just 4-for-18 from deep for the game. Luckily, they’ll have an opportunity to clean things up this evening against Morehead State.
While Ohio State’s performance against the River Hawks left much to be desired, it did force them to face some adversity for the first time this season, which is good. Certainly, Chris Holtmann would have liked things to be less stressful against the No. 212 team in the country according to KenPom, but there will be many contests this year that come down to the final few possessions. Having the experience of grinding out close wins in November should help this group do the same in March.
The Buckeyes have some work to do, namely learning how to shoot a basketball through the net that hangs from the iron rim up there. They were completely inept at shooting the ball during the first half, missing every single three-point attempt and the majority of their jump shots. Ohio State was efficient in the paint, getting contributions from Kyle Young, Duane Washington Jr., and E.J. Liddell in the first half, helping them stay tied at halftime.
The Buckeyes went neck and neck with the River Hawks until the 1:08 mark of the second half, when Washington Jr.’s third three-pointer of the day gave Ohio State a 70-63 lead that put the game just out of reach. The Buckeyes stayed patient and eventually shot their way out of their funk at the end, but they won’t have that luxury against higher-level competition. The game will be too far gone at that point.
The positives? Ohio State is not turning the ball over, and their point guard is dishing out assists like candy to kids on a non-COVID Halloween. After registering six assists against Illinois State, CJ Walker recorded five more on Sunday against UMass-Lowell. He’s averaging 5.5 assists to two turnovers per game this season, and as a team, the Buckeyes are turning the ball over just 9.5 times per game. Last season, Ohio State turned the ball over just under 13 times per contest. Not giving your opponents extra opportunities matters in the best conference in college basketball.
Morehead State comes into the matchup with the Buckeyes on the heels of their first victory of the year, a 69-61 win over Arkansas State. Freshman Johni Broome recorded a double-double with 25 points and 12 rebounds in just his third collegiate game, and it’ll be interesting to see how the Buckeyes defend the Eagles’ talented wing. He scored 11 points in their season-opening loss to Kentucky, but struggled in the following contest against Richmond, recording just six points and six rebounds.
The Eagles are the 313th-best team in the country according to KenPom, placing them even lower than Ohio State’s first two opponents. A member of the Ohio Valley Conference, they have not won their conference since 2003. They did, however, win their conference tournament in 2011, advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the seventh time in program history. They upset fourth-seeded Louisville in the opening round as the 13-seed, which was just their second NCAA Tournament win in the past 27 years.
A win against the ranked Buckeyes this season would be a huge stamp for their tournament resume as they look to punch their ticket for the first time since that magical run almost a decade ago. Ohio State, on the other hand, will once again look to avoid a major blemish on their resume, as a loss against Morehead State is as disastrous as it gets. If Chris Holtmann’s squad ends up on the NCAA Tournament “bubble”, a loss to Morehead State is what will keep them out of the field of 68. They simply cannot lose this game.
It seems like de ja vu, because it’s almost the exact same situation as Sunday. Ohio State is the bigger, stronger, and far talented team. Morehead State has one offensive weapon that the Buckeyes will surely plan for, and not much beyond that. As a team, the Eagles shoot 23.9% from three-point range — one of the worst marks in the country.
Ohio State can’t come out throwing bricks up the whole first half again, or else they’ll find themselves in panic mode, needing to be bailed out by the exact thing they’ve shown they cannot do — shoot. While I don’t think the Buckeyes are that bad shooting the basketball (they probably won’t shoot below 30% from three-point range many times this year), these are the games where they have some leeway to work out the kinks.
ESPN BPI: 93.8%
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