All eyes are on the Ohio State football team this week as the Buckeyes prepare to take on Michigan in Ann Arbor for all the Big Ten East marbles. But first, we’ve got Ohio State hoops in action tonight, with the 19th-ranked Buckeyes taking on Seton Hall at 6 p.m. ET as part of the Fort Myers Classic in Florida.
The Buckeyes are looking to bounce back against the Pirates after falling to Xavier in their first loss of the season on Thursday. With the 71-65 loss on the road in Cincinnati, Ohio State fell to 3-1 on the young season.
In a game which the Buckeyes never led, a three-pointer by senior guard Jamari Wheeler pulled Ohio State within two with seconds remaining in the second half, but it wouldn’t be enough for the Buckeyes. Junior forward EJ Liddell led the Buckeyes in scoring, as he has in all four games this season, with 17 points on the day. Senior forward Kyle Young and freshman guard Meechie Johnson Jr. added 12 points and 14 points, respectively, off the bench — unfortunately, the only bench points for the Buckeyes Thursday.
The Buckeyes started just 1-for-10 shooting, and connected on just 38% of their shots from the field. Xavier also out-rebounded them by a 43-35 margin.
Ohio State showed some sparks against Bowling Green, but took a step back last week. It’s a long season ahead, but Chris Holtmann and company will look to right the ship ahead of a tough stretch to round out 2021.
It’s still early in the season, but things have not gone as Ohio State might have hoped through four games, including a narrow win in the Buckeyes’ season opener against Akron. Things don’t get much easier this evening, when Ohio State faces a 3-0 Seton Hall team that just knocked off No. 4 Michigan 67-65 in the Gavitt Games.
That win was one of Seton Hall’s biggest in program history. The Pirates were led by senior guard Jared Rhoden’s 16 points, while junior forward Tray Jackson and senior guard Bryce Aiken added 13 apiece coming off the bench. On paper, it looks like Seton Hall had no business winning that game: The Pirates shot 40% from the field, made 56% of their free throws and were out-rebounded 39-33. But, the Pirates made their shots when it counted, including sinking critical free throws late to seal their major victory over the Wolverines.
Seton Hall’s win over Michigan is certainly the premier win of the short season, with the Pirates’ other victories coming over Fairleigh Dickinson and Yale. Aiken is leading the team in scoring, averaging 12.3 points per game, closely followed by Rhoden’s 12. Rhoden, a Preseason All-Big East First Team selection, also leads the team in rebounds, with 7.5 per game. In all, Seton Hall has four players averaging double-digit points.
Head coach Kevin Willard has been at the helm at Seton Hall since 2010, accruing a 207-149 overall record. In heartbreaking fashion, Willard took the Pirates to their first regular season conference championship in 2020 — when the Big East and NCAA Tournaments were cancelled.
Meanwhile for Ohio State, the Buckeyes must continue to live their lives without senior forward Justice Sueing, who is expected to miss extended time with an abdominal injury. In two games this season, Sueing averaged just six points in limited minutes. Sueing’s injury is particularly challenging given the loss of sixth-year senior forward Seth Towns, who’s been sidelined following back surgery in the offseason and is expected to miss several months.
Not only are the Buckeyes missing Towns’ and Sueing’s veteran leadership, they’re also without the nearly 15 points per game the pair had last season.
The good news is Ohio State still has EJ Liddell, who’s kicked off his junior year with a hot start, averaging 21 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. There’ve also been glimmers of greatness from Zed Key, Meechie Johnson Jr. and Kyle Young.
Ohio State and Seton Hall have faced off just five times previously, with the Buckeyes holding a 3-2 edge in the series history. The most recent matchup took place in 2003, with Seton Hall emerging with a 75-59 victory.
Ohio State has been questionable through four games, only finding its balance against Bowling Green in their third game of the year. The loss against Xavier in the Gavitt Games does not inspire much confidence, especially against a Seton Hall team that’s coming off a massive win over a really good Michigan team.
It would seem that Ohio State’s best player (Liddell) is better than Seton Hall’s best player (Rhoden), but the rest of the lineup gets murkier from there. As mentioned, the Buckeyes are still feeling the acute absence of Sueing, and we don’t have enough data points on the younger players and transfers to understand their roles moving forward — though, at some point, someone will have to step up and help Liddell in the scoring department.
Key and Young certainly remain critical pieces, especially with Young coming off the bench, but players like Justin Ahrens and Malaki Branham have room to grow early this season.
This matchup looks a lot more interesting since the events of last week (something that’s reflected in ESPN’s narrow Basketball Power Index for this particular game), but the Buckeyes will have to avoid looking ahead to next week’s marquee matchup against No. 7 Duke and an early conference matchup on the road against Penn State in early December.
Regardless, the Buckeyes have a lot of talent on their roster and, while it’s early in the season, would seem to have the pieces to be able to get it together following a loss. Similarly, Seton Hall, while riding high from a major upset, will likely find it hard to manage two such events in a row.
Expect something of a slog as the Buckeyes continue to figure things out, but Ohio State emerges with a win.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 52.1%
Time: 6 p.m. ET
TV: Fox Sports 1