Okay, everybody. Follow my lead: Breathe in and breathe out. Perfect, now let’s talk about some things.
First of all, No. 17 Ohio State did win their first game. It was close and it was fairly ugly, but a win is a win and all wins must be celebrated as such. Now, the Buckeyes can turn their attention to the Niagara Purple Eagles, who they will take on Friday at 7 p.m. ET on Big Ten Network Plus. This is a paid subscription, so you can also listen to the game on the fantastic Ohio State Radio Network from Learfield.
There were some positives to take away from the win over the Zippies. EJ Liddell played like the All-American we all know he can be (he just has to stop fouling three-point shooters), Zed Key played a pretty brilliant game and Malaki Branham stepped up in a big way, especially for his first game as a Buckeye and as a college basketball player.
The Buckeyes have some things they need to clear up no doubt, but it was also one game. I will start to really show some concern if come mid-December or the start of 2022, these issues are still prevalent and holding them back. Especially with the new transfers still integrating in, Kyle Young sitting out for the time being and Justice Sueing clearly not at 100 percent.
So, Ohio State is 1-0 and here comes Niagara. Niagara is coached by former Buckeye assistant and Duke Blue Devil point guard/Syracuse quarterback Greg Paulus. The Purple Eagles are a decent team that just took Xavier down to the final possession in their opener, but ultimately lost 63-60 to the Musketeers.
One thing that does have to be mentioned about that one is Xavier was down Zach Freemantle, who is their best player and one of the better players in the conference. It is safe to assume that the game would not have been that close if he was on the court, as he is likely a 17 and 10 guy this season. Xavier’s top players and guards Colby Jones and Paul Scruggs combined for 33 points, but on just 11-for-26 shooting.
For Ohio State in their first game, EJ Liddell finished with his fifth career double-double, recording 25 points — just one point off of his career high — and 11 rebounds. Zed Key tied his career-high in points with 14 and made the game-winning basket with just 0.3 seconds left in the game after Akron’s Ali Ali converted a four-point play to give the Zips a one point lead with six seconds left.
Niagara just gave Xavier a great fight, and Ohio State is coming off a less than stellar opening game, so this one could be interesting. Niagara is led by star guard Marcus Hammond, who is a great candidate for a first team All-MAAC selection and maybe even player of the year in that conference.
Against Xavier, Hammond recorded 25 points on 9-for-17 shooting in 35 minutes. However, especially with Wheeler out there for Ohio State, the Purple Eagles will need their other starters to step up and play big roles to keep up with the Buckeyes. The rest of the Purple Eagles starters combined to shoot just 9-for-26 for a pedestrian 23 points. For Niagara to pull off an upset of this magnitude, it has to be a team effort. As good as Hammond is, he will not be able to carry Niagara to a victory by himself.
This is the first time in the two programs history that they are facing each other. Ohio State is 4-3 all time against the MAAC in program history.
Another fun (loose definition) tidbit about this one is Niagara head coach Greg Paulus. Paulus returns to Columbus for the first time in his head coaching career after serving as the Buckeyes’ video coordinator from 2011-2013 and assistant coach from 2013-2107. He didn’t make it through the coaching change, and unfortunately has had to bounce around a good amount due to other coaching changes at his other locations. Thankfully for Paulus, he has seemed to find a great landing spot in Niagara, and should be able to make a solid go of it with the Purple Eagles.
Games like the Akron game can be either a great thing for a team or a bad thing for a team. It is important that they pulled out the victory at the last second and have that momentum (yes it is still momentum no matter who you beat) going into the next contest, but obviously you want to clean up the issues that kept things close.
I made this example on the podcast (don’t forget to listen and subscribe and leave a nice review on the Bucketheads podcast) that this is like golf. Sometimes the best thing the pros can do is bogey the first hole of the round, because it can wake them up and get them focused in earlier to the round.
Akron can be Ohio State’s bogey. It would've been a double bogey if they lost, but I digress. I think Ohio State will bounce back in a big way against an inferior opponent. Look for Justin Ahrens and Meechie Johnson to have big games.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 92.5%
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
TV: Big Ten Network Plus