While it hasn’t been every season, Chris Holtmann’s Ohio State teams have really created a trend of starting the season hot, building high expectations, and then falling prey to the dreaded “January swoon.” In 2018, the Buckeyes started 12-1 and rose to 14th in the AP Poll before losing their next five games in January and falling out of the poll (and Big Ten contention) completely.
In 2019, they started the season 11-1 and flew all the way up to No. 2 in the country, before losing six of their next seven and falling out of the Top 25 and B1G contention yet again.
Last season was the exception, as Ohio State lost a few road games early as they continued to feel out the team and integrate new starters — like E.J. Liddell — to the rotation. Chris Holtmann is probably hoping that this team takes after last year’s squad more than the previous two.
This version of Ohio State men’s basketball is 7-2 and are ranked No. 21 in the country. They’ve lost two games to ranked teams, and are dealing with some serious injuries (Seth Towns and Justice Sueing) much earlier than they had hoped. But after a little bit of a rickety start, the Buckeyes are beginning to find their footing.
Following a monumental, program-building win over No. 3 Duke last week, the Buckeyes went on the road Sunday night to play Penn State in a venue that they have not had much success in recently, the Bryce Jordan Center. Some folks circled it as a possible “trap” game — a game Ohio State could overlook versus a bad team immediately after beating Duke.
But the Buckeyes got it done, shooting their way to a 76-64 win Sunday night, with six players scoring eight or more points — led by Kyle Young’s 16. Ohio State is beginning to show that its depth is a strength and something that makes them extremely difficult to prepare for.
Tonight — in a very late 9:00 p.m. ET tipoff — Holtmann’s Buckeyes welcomed the Towson Tigers (6-4) out of the Colonial Athletic Association. Holtmann described them on the radio as a “very physical, very talented mid-major” team, and pointed out that despite this game being wedged between two B1G games, they were focusing solely on Towson early this week.
With Towns and Sueing still out, Ohio State went with a lineup of Jamari Wheeler, Malaki Branham, Justin Ahrens, Liddell, and Zed Key to start the game. Eugene Brown III — who missed three games with a concussion and logged zero minutes off the bench against Penn State — was fully cleared and available off the bench.
The Buckeyes started about as well as you could’ve hoped, scoring on each of their first five possessions to take an early 12-3 lead. It became quite obvious that the Tigers didn’t have the beef to defend Key or Liddell one-on-one, and that they were completely content collapsing in and letting Ohio State shoot from outside — which they did.
But then Towson punched back, going on a lightning-fast 13-to-2 run to take the lead 21-17 highlighted by three pointers from Antonio Rizzuto and Cam Holden. To Towson’s credit, several of their shots during this run were either highly contested or from far beyond the three-point line — shots you typically let opposing teams take and expect that they’ll miss.
Ohio State was able to squeak out a one-point lead by halftime, thanks to Key’s shot clock-beating fadeaway shot from the right baseline with seven seconds remaining before the break. He had 11 points in the first half, leading all scorers. The Buckeyes shot nearly 60% as a team during the opening stanza, but still only led by a single point after 20 minutes, 33-32.
Ohio State was able to slowly push their lead out to double digits by the 11:51 mark on Wheeler’s nifty driving layup, but for the most part, this game was a catfight (sorry). Liddell dealt with foul trouble which limited his minutes, and the Tigers hit just enough deep three’s and other wacky shots to keep them within shouting distance for most of the game.
By the time the buzzer sounded, Ohio State had comfortably dispatched their foes from the Colonial Athletic Association, 85-74. The Buckeyes were paced by Young’s season-high 18 points. Key, Liddell, and Ahrens scored in double digits as well. Jason Gibson led the Tigers with 19 points, the most amongst all scorers.
So, what were the key moments along the way as the Buckeyes picked up their seventh win of the season? Here are a few of the moments that mattered:
Young’s fifth-straight three
After going 4-for-4 from beyond the three-point line against Penn State, Kyle Young hit another at the 14:17 of the first half against Towson to stretch his streak to five straight makes. His shot gave Ohio State a 15-8 lead early in this one. It also increased his season-percentage to 50% (at the time).
Rizzuto, Holden give Towson the lead
After jumping out to a big lead early, the Buckeyes started missing shots; every shot. While Ohio State went scoreless for a two+ minute period from 12:48 to 10:36, Towson went on a quick 13-2 run, bringing them all the way back and then giving them the lead. Rizzuto and Holden knocked down back-to-back threes for the Tigers, giving them a one — and then four — point lead early in the first half.
Brown checked in with 5:36 remaining in the first half, and immediately announced his return with a three-pointer from the far corner, cutting Towson’s lead to four points. Brown had not played since Nov. 18 against Xavier when he suffered a concussion.
Zed Key: jump shooter?
But Key did knock down a nice little fadeaway baseline J’ just before the half, giving the Buckeyes a 33-32 lead. As the shot clock wound down, Key was calling for the ball, but was gradually getting moved off the block by his defender.
Wheeler didn’t want to give him the ball way out there, but with the shot clock about to expire, he had few other options. Key caught it, took two dribbles, and then spun around and nailed it. Ohio State took the lead thinnest of leads into the locker room.
Holden scores nine straight
Ohio State started the second half off the right way, scoring 10 points in the first 3:53 of the period. But Towson’s Holden did the same, scoring nine-consecutive points for the Tigers over a 78-second span from 17:47 to 16:29.
Their leading scorer at 16 points per game, Holden only had just three in the first half. He remedied that quickly once the second half started. Holden’s third basket of the second half tied the game 43-43 with 16:07 remaining.
Young’s sixth-straight three
Folks,,,,,, we might have a shooter on our hands.
With 14:27 remaining in the game, Branham found Young standing not far from the Ohio State bench — just beyond the three-point line — for a wide open trey. It was Young’s second three-pointer of the night and his sixth straight make from three-point land, going back to the Penn State game. It gave Ohio State a 48-43 lead.
Flop technical! Flop technical!
Up 48-43 with 14:29 remaining, Towson’s Holden was called for the team’s second flop of the game, resulting in a technical foul being assessed on the Tigers. Holden fell down on a Young layup, which he made. Young then made the free throw as well, giving the Buckeyes a 51-43 lead.
Ahrens scores 10 straight
Up 66-55 with 6:52 remaining in the game, Ahrens went on a hot streak we have not seen from the OSU sharpshooter since the Iowa game back during his freshman year when he scored 27 points. From the 6:52 to 5:24 mark, Ahrens scored 10-straight points for the Buckeyes — yes, all on threes.
On the second, he was fouled directly in front of the Ohio State bench, which earned him a huge hug from Wheeler. Towson was answering Ahrens’ buckets, however, and the Tigers were able to keep it a 12-point game by the 4:00 mark, 78-66.
No. 21 Ohio State (7-2, 1-0) will look to stay unbeaten in the Big Ten when No. 22 Wisconsin (8-1, 1-0) travels to Columbus on Saturday. The Badgers came back from a 17-point halftime deficit to beat Indiana earlier on Wednesday night, and have exceeded expectations early on this season with wins over Houston, Georgia Tech, and St. Mary’s already on their resume.
The Badgers were picked to finish 10th in the B1G in the preseason media poll and 12th in my personal preseason predictions.
Ohio State-Wisconsin tips off at 12 noon ET on Saturday and will be broadcast on BTN.