Even though Ohio State is in the heart of Big Ten play, the Buckeyes are stepping out of conference tonight to take on the IUPUI Jaguars. With three of their games being cancelled due to COVID-19 in December, the Buckeyes recently agreed to host the Jaguars to try and get another game on the books. Tonight’s game against IUPUI will be the second of a three-game home stand for Ohio State.
Following a 78-68 loss at Wisconsin on Thursday night, Ohio State rebounded with a 61-56 win over Penn State on Sunday afternoon in Columbus. The performance by the Buckeyes wasn’t the prettiest, but with their recent history against Penn State, any win against the Nittany Lions is a good win. Ohio State never trailed after taking a 12-10 lead with 11:58 left in the first half. Even though Penn State was able to keep the deficit within single digits for most of the game, the Nittany Lions weren’t able to get closer than four points in the second half.
E.J. Liddell pretty much hit his season average for scoring on the nose on Sunday. The junior led the Buckeyes with 19 points in the win over Penn State, and is now averaging 19.9 points per game this season. Liddell was just two rebounds shy of recording his third double-double of the season, as he pulled down eight rebounds against the Nittany Lions. After shooting 5-26 in his first two games of 2022, Liddell has now hit at least 50% of his field goal attempts in the last three games.
One Buckeye that Sunday’s win meant a little more to was Jamari Wheeler, who transferred from Penn State to Ohio State following last season. While Wheeler took just three shot attempts, he made some huge free throws to help secure the win for the Buckeyes. In the last minute of the game, Wheeler went to the free throw line four times and sank all four of his attempts to extend Ohio State’s lead to nine points. Wheeler finished with nine points, four rebounds, and two steals in 34 minutes.
Since Ohio State will have the advantage in pretty much every area of tonight’s game, the Buckeyes should try and get Malaki Branham going on the offensive end. Branham had been very strong in Ohio State’s first four games of 2022, going 28-49 from the field in those games. Branham had a hard time getting the basketball to fall on Sunday, hitting just one of his seven shots from the field. The eight points Branham scored against Penn State was his lowest output since he was shutout against Wisconsin last month. The freshman had put together a nice stretch of games, and now he’ll have to learn how to rebound from a subpar performance.
Tonight will mark the third time that Ohio State and IUPUI have squared off. The first meeting between the schools came in December 2001, with Ohio State winning 83-70. Nine years later the teams met again in Columbus and the result was similar, as the Buckeyes won 75-64. IUPUI joined the Horizon League prior to the 2017-18 season, and will be Ohio State’s first opponent from the Horizon League since last season, when the Buckeyes defeated Cleveland State 67-61.
Coaching the Jaguars is Matt Crenshaw, who was a point guard for the Jaguars from 2000-2004. Crenshaw was an assistant coach at IUPUI from 2006-2018 before spending the last three seasons as an assistant coach at Ball State. Now in his first stint as a head coach in college basketball, Crenshaw is tasked with trying to lead IUPUI to their second NCAA Tournament appearance. The only other time the Jaguars made the big dance came back in 2003, when Ron Hunter’s squad earned the Summit League’s automatic bid and went on to face Kentucky as a 16-seed.
Unfortunately for Crenshaw, he’ll likely need to wait at least a year to possibly take IUPUI to the NCAA Tournament. This season hasn’t gone exactly as planned for the Jaguars, who are just 1-14, and have lost nine straight games. The only win for IUPUI this year came against Division III squad Spalding. The most recent loss for the Jaguars came on Saturday at the hands of Milwaukee. The Panthers had little trouble with IUPUI, beating the Jaguars 89-54 in Milwaukee.
If this game is close, there might be more problems than we are wanting to admit with the Buckeyes right now. Even though Ohio State likes to make games closer than they probably should be, they shouldn’t have a problem with IUPUI, since the Jaguars are one of the worst teams in the country. Even though IUPUI has played a couple teams close this year, the majority of their losses have come by at least 10 points this year, and those losses have been to teams that aren’t anywhere close to the caliber of the Buckeyes.
Ohio State shouldn’t have trouble with IUPUI since the Jaguars don’t have much size to lean on, which should allow for E.J. Liddell, Zed Key, and Kyle Young to do just about anything they want in the paint. IUPUI doesn’t have a player that is averaging 4.6 rebounds per game this year, so we should see the Buckeyes win the rebounding battle by at least 10 boards.
IUPUI also doesn’t have much to offer when it comes to consistent scoring. B.J. Maxwell is the team’s leading scorer, averaging 11.6 points per game. Maxwell is the only Jaguar averaging double figures in scoring this year. After Maxwell, Azariah Seay is scoring 7.3 points per game. Bakari LaStrap averages 6.3 points per contest, and KJ Pruitt adds 5.0 points per game.
This added game will allow Ohio State to stay fresh ahead of Saturday’s game against Nebraska. In a way it’s a glorified practice because the Jaguars shouldn’t threaten to upset the Buckeyes. Chris Holtmann’s goal in this game will likely be to get his starters some work, address some issues he might see, and then let the backups get some more playing time before the team jumps back into Big Ten play on Saturday.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 99.7%
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
TV: Big Ten Network