After opening up their Big Ten schedule with a 76-64 win over Penn State on Sunday, Ohio State steps back out of conference tonight when they host the Towson Tigers. After falling to Florida the night before Thanksgiving, the Buckeyes have now won two games in a row. Ohio State will be trying to take down the Tigers before turning their attention to Wisconsin and Kentucky in their next two games.
The Buckeyes used a three-point barrage to defeat the Nittany Lions on Sunday. Ohio State hit 12 three-pointers in State College, with Kyle Young going a perfect 4-of-4 from behind the arc. Young was the leading scorer for Ohio State in the game, scoring 16 points off the bench, while E.J. Liddell added 14 points.
The best performance of the game came from Jamari Wheeler, who returned to where he started his collegiate career. Wheeler scored nine points, dished out nine assists, grabbed five rebounds, and notched three steals. Wheeler spent the first four seasons of his college career with the Nittany Lions before transferring to Ohio State prior to this season.
One Buckeye that is trending in the right direction is Malaki Branham, who is coming off a career-high 11 points against Penn State on Sunday night. After going 14-of-42 from the field in the first six games of his Ohio State career, Branham has shot 9-of-15 over the last two games. The 2021 Ohio Mr. Basketball is starting to gain confidence on the court, which will greatly benefit the Buckeyes, as it would give them a consistent backcourt threat to go along with E.J. Liddell and Zed Key in the front court.
Ohio State will take on Towson for the third time ever on Wednesday night. The first meeting came in the 1991 NCAA Tournament, where the Buckeyes beat the Tigers 97-86 in the first round matchup in Dayton. The other meeting came in 2004, with Ohio State winning 74-53 in Columbus.
The Tigers have started off the season 6-3, and are coming off a 73-58 win over Kent State on Monday night. Towson never trailed in the game, jumping out to a 19-2 lead. Kent State was able to close the gap to 61-58 with 5:50 left in the second half, but the Golden Flashes wouldn’t score another point in the game. The win was Towson’s third-straight victory.
Cameron Holden nearly recorded a triple-double against Kent State, scoring seven points, grabbing 11 rebounds, and passing out 10 assists. On the season, Holden is averaging a double-double with 16 points per game and 10.4 rebounds per game, both of which are the top marks on the Towson squad. The senior guard earned All-Ohio Valley Conference Second Team honors with Tennessee-Martin last year before transferring to Towson.
Against the Golden Flashes, Nicolas Timberlake led the way with 22 points. The redshirt junior was just one rebound shy of notching a double-double on Monday night against the Golden Flashes, which would have been the first of his career. Timberlake is the team’s second-leading scorer with 13.6 points per game.
Even though Towson doesn’t have a ton of size, they have been one of the better defenses in the country so far this year. The Tigers are allowing just 62.6 points per game, which is the lowest total among CAA teams. Towson has given up 63 points or less in seven of their first nine games this season. The cornerstone of the defense of the Tigers is Casey Thompson, who was named to the CAA All-Defensive Team last year. Thompson has recorded at least one block in each game this season, and is coming off a performance against Kent State on Monday that saw him swat a season-high three shots.
Towson is coached by Pat Skerry, who is in his 11th season at the helm of the program. Skerry is trying to lead the Tigers to their first NCAA Tournament since the 1990-91 season, where they lost to Ohio State in the first round. Even though the Tigers haven’t made the big dance under Skerry, that doesn’t mean they haven’t had some solid teams, as Skerry has recorded four seasons of at least 20 wins during his time with the school. The best season for Skerry at Towson came in 2013-14, when the Tigers went 25-11.
Ohio State shouldn’t expect to just be able to roll Towson once the ball is tipped in this game. Even though they are a mid-major school, the Tigers won’t be an easy out, as all three of their losses this year have been by 10 points or less, including a 63-59 setback against Pitt last month. After taking down one team from Ohio already this week, the Tigers will be looking for their first win against a ranked team under Skerry.
The Buckeyes have to be careful not to take their foot off the gas in what could be a “let down game”. After beating Duke last week and opening up their conference schedule with a road win on Sunday, with games against Wisconsin and Kentucky ahead, this is a textbook scenario for Ohio State to be a little sluggish tonight. There’s no doubt that head coach Chris Holtmann is trying to keep this exact thing from happening.
Ohio State does have an advantage in this game because Towson isn’t a particularly big team. The Tigers have just three players who measure at least 6-foot-7 and play at least 10 minutes per game. This should allow E.J. Liddell and Zed Key to have plenty of opportunities to do some damage in the paint. It would be wise for the Buckeyes to try and get the duo active early, and possibly get some of the Towson forwards into foul trouble.
If the Buckeyes are able to see some success early on the inside, it will open things up on the perimeter for Justin Ahrens, Malaki Branham, and the other Buckeyes, as Towson will likely try to collapse on Liddell and Key. Even though the Tigers are a strong defensive team, they’ll eventually have to pick their poison. The Buckeyes will end up having a little too much talent and depth for Towson to match, even with Justice Sueing and Seth Towns still missing from action.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 89.1%
Time: 9:00 p.m. ET