Perhaps the team felt and heard the concerns of Buckeye nation following their closely fought 74-64 win over UMass-Lowell, or maybe Chris Holtmann made his concerns evident at practice last week. Regardless, the Ohio State men’s basketball team responded in a big way last Wednesday, thumping Morehead State 77-44 inside the Covelli Center.
They didn’t blow the barn doors off by any means, shooting a respectable 44.3% from the floor and 38.5% from beyond the arc, but it was a step up from the dry shooting they showed in their previous game. All five starters scored double digits, and Chris Holtmann will need that balance to continue this evening and for the rest of the season if Ohio State is going to make noise in the Big Ten.
The Buckeyes were surgical on Wednesday evening, forcing 17 turnovers while only committing seven themselves. They improved their overall field goal percentage and three-point percentage between the two games, and used size to their advantage against an overmatched and overwhelmed Morehead State squad. Hell, Kyle Young even connected from three-point land.
Chris Holtmann should laminate Wednesday’s game notes and plaster them on the locker room walls, because that’s how the Buckeyes are going to win this year. Even when they get Seth Towns back, this team is not going to light it up from downtown. However, they have pretty good size up and down the roster (eight players who are 6-foot-6 or taller), and seem to have the same high-motor/high-hustle identity that every Holtmann-coached team has. Kyle Young, E.J. Liddell, Justice Sueing, and Zed Key aren’t massive, but they’re all big enough to cause problems, and they all grind out every single possession with unmatched intensity.
Because of that, the Buckeyes are able to overcome the lack of a “true” center and replace it with contributions from several guys, resulting in success scoring in the paint. And once Ohio State establishes the paint, outside shots are going to start falling a bit more. It sounds trivial, but the team was not doing it in their near-loss to UMass-Lowell. Wednesday was different, and we saw the blueprint of how the Buckeyes will win games with or without Towns.
Ohio State’s guard duo of CJ Walker and Duane Washington Jr. not only scored on their own on Wednesday (11 points for each of them), but they were also dishing it, with each guy recording four assists while only turning the ball over once. Washington Jr. is generally more of a shooter (averaging 1.3 assists per game in his career), but if he can get his teammates more involved it’ll create more opportunities for both himself and Walker.
Ohio State enters their matchup with Notre Dame well-rested after their game vs Alabama A&M on Saturday was cancelled due to positive tests in the A&M program. They’ve had five days to practice and prepare for the Fighting Irish, who will not be nearly as rested or prepared as Ohio State. They defeated the University of Detroit Mercy 78-70 on Sunday evening, giving them one day to prepare for the Big Ten-ACC Challenge.
Notre Dame is 1-1, having lost to No. 8 Michigan State 80-70 on the opening night of the season before having their next two games cancelled. Their scheduled game against Western Michigan on Dec. 2 was cancelled due to WMU “not having enough available players” but the reason for their absence was not specified. Their game against No. 13 Tennessee scheduled for Dec. 4 was cancelled due to COVID issues within the Tennessee program. Because of this, Mike Brey’s ND squad will be playing just their third game of the season on Tuesday evening.
Before the season started we went in-depth about the Fighting Irish and their history in the B1G-ACC Challenge, to show the type of opponent Ohio State is getting. The jist of that piece, which you can read here, was Notre Dame’s sterling home record in the B1G-ACC challenge since joining the ACC full-time in 2012. They’re 4-3 overall, including a loss on the road to Maryland last season. But they’re 3-0 at home in the cross-conference challenge, winning by an average of 5 points.
This Notre Dame team is balanced, but by no means deep. In their loss vs the Spartans, all five starters played 30+ minutes. Only one other player on the team, backup guard Nikola Djogo, played more than six minutes.
The starters were relied on even more heavily against Detroit, as four out of five starters played at least 36 minutes. Juwan Durham, the lone senior on the roster, drew his fourth foul during the second half and therefore played “only” 30 minutes.
The Buckeyes will be challenged by Notre Dame’s versatility, as all of their starters beside Durham average 10 points per game or more. Upper Arlington native Dane Goodwin, who was an Ohio State commit before Thad Matta left, is averaging 13.5 points and nine rebounds per game for the Fighting Irish. Starting point guard Prentiss Hubb is averaging 20.5 points per game along with five assists, and 6-foot-10 junior forward Nate Laszewski is averaging a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds per game.
But beyond their starting five, Notre Dame is extremely bare. If the guys I talked about earlier — Liddell, Young, Key, and Sueing — can get Durham and Laszewski in foul trouble early, Notre Dame simply does not have the depth to keep up with the Buckeyes. Chris Holtmann can mix and match those four guys, plus Eugene Brown and perhaps even Seth Towns, all night. Notre Dame does not have that luxury, so Ohio State will need to go at them early and often to force Mike Brey’s hand.
Obviously, this will be Ohio State’s toughest opponent yet. Due to COVID cancelling some marquee events during the season’s first week, the Buckeyes’ nonconference schedule did not challenge them like it normally would. Notre Dame’s starting five excels at all aspects of the game, and all five of them can be the “go-to” guy on any given night.
While Notre Dame may have the tallest two players on the court (Laszewksi and Durham are 6-foot-10 and 6-foot-11, respectively), Ohio State is a deeper and more talented team. Playing their starters for 38 minutes may have worked against a small school like Detroit Mercy, but if Mike Brey follows that same blueprint against the Buckeyes, he’s going to have issues.
This could be a game where the Buckeyes fall behind early, but be patient. Ohio State’s talented bench will be the difference when they cap off their fourth win of the year.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 56.6%
7:30 p.m. ET