Speculation was abound on Jan. 10 when No. 19 Ohio State (12-4, 5-2) announced that they’d be adding a home game to the schedule for the following Tuesday, a direct result of losing three games — two of them at home — when several players caught COVID-19 in December. Some fans wanted to see No. 12 Kentucky come to the Schottenstein Center, others were hoping it was an in-state opponent, like Dayton, Ohio, or Cincinnati. Instead, the Buckeyes got IUPUI (1-15, 0-6).
The Jaguars — hailing from the Horizon League — are simply not a good basketball team. At No. 356 in KenPom, they are the worst team Ohio State has played since at least 2002, and that’s just because KenPom’s rankings don't go any further back. The Jags entered Tuesday night’s game having only beaten one team this season — Division-III Spalding College.
IUPUI barley averages 50 points per game, and averages nearly twice as many turnovers (16.4) than assists (9.9). They have one player on the team — B.J. Maxwell — who averages double digit points per game. They’re shooting below 40% overall and below 30% from three-point land. Not a single measurable statistic reflects well on the Jaguars.
But hey, they were available to play! And coming off of a three-game COVID-19 pause of their own, first-year head coach Matt Crenshaw brought his team to Columbus on Tuesday night looking to get his squad some run against one of the best teams his program has faced off with in quite some time.
Well, the Buckeyes gave them some run, that’s for sure.
Ohio State rolled out their regular lineup of Jamari Wheeler, Malaki Branham, Justin Ahrens, E.J. Liddell — who entered tonight’s game 25 points shy of 1,000 for his career— and Zed Key. IUPUI countered with Maxwell, Nathan McClure, Mike DePersia, Boston Stanton, and Jonah Carrasco.
The Jaguars were clearly outmatched and it showed right away, as they turned the ball over twice in their first three possessions, and missed their first four shots of the game. While IUPUI tried to figure their own stuff out, Ohio State jumped out to a 9-0 lead by the first media timeout courtesy of four points from Branham, three from Liddell, and two from Key.
Key also blocked two shots over the first four minutes of the game before being subbed out for Joey Brunk at the 15:49 mark.
Ohio State lost the shutout right after the first media timeout courtesy of a Carrasco free throw that represented IUPUI’s first point of the night, 4:11 into the game. The ‘Jags went on a little run of their own after that (if you want to call it that) scoring four straight points to get back within four, 9-5 at the 13:58 mark.
The Jaguars played what I would assume is their best half of basketball of the season over the first 20 minutes, as they went into the locker room down just 13 points against the No. 19 team in the country, 37-24. After jumping out to that 9-0 lead, the Buckeyes only outscored the Jaguars 28-24 over the final 16:56 of the first half. Liddell, Key, and Branham each had seven points in the first half. Bakari LaStrap had eight points on 3-4 shooting for IUPUI.
Eugene Brown started the second half alongside the regular starters other than Ahrens after the latter was held scoreless on just two shot attempts in the first half. Brown, on the other hand, had six points in the opening frame.
“Downtown” Eugene Brown continued to show out in the second half, scoring seven more points just by the first media timeout to set a career-high with 13. Ohio State outscored IUPUI 15-4 by the first media break of the second half, opening up a 52-28 lead with 14:23 to go. The rout was officially on.
By the under-eight media timeout, Ohio State had extended their lead to 67-37, and Liddell’s day was finished. The Buckeye captain and leading scorer finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds for his third double-double of the season, plus three assists for good measure. Some more basketball occurred over the final 5:47 of the game, but very little was noteworthy as the game was already out of hand. The Buckeyes outscored IUPUI 46-13 in the second half.
When the final buzzer sounded, Ohio State had wrapped up a 83-37 victory over their Horizon League foes for their 12th win of the year. They were paced by Brown’s 13 points, while LaStrap led IUPUI with a clean dozen on 4-7 shooting.
So, you didn’t catch tonight’s marquee matchup between the Buckeyes and Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis? Here are my five big takeaways from tonight’s romp in the Schott:
More of a scrimmage than a real game
Chris Holtmann made it abundantly clear early on that Tuesday night’s game against IUPUI was about getting everyone some time on the floor and mixing up lineups that we don’t see too often. The first substitute was Brunk — who plays six minutes per game and has registered two DNP’s already this season. Ten different Buckeyes played in the first half, with all but Kyle Young and Ahrens scoring during the first 20 minutes.
We’ve grown very used to Holtmann’s “coach speak” at the podium, when he tells people how tough of an opponent the Buckeyes are facing and how it’s another game they need to win. However, tonight’s game — very obviously — was being treated more like an early-season scrimmage than a mid-season game with the constant substituting and peculiar lineups that were deployed.
Justin Ahrens still isn’t right
Ahrens entered tonight’s game having hit 6 of his 24 three-point tries since Ohio State came back from their break, good for only a 25% clip. This brought his season percentage down nearly seven percent, all the way to 36.6%. Now that is still serviceable for most players, but for someone whose offensive skillset more or less starts and stops with threes, that’s not great.
He didn’t start tonight’s game out any better, missing his first two three-point attempts before trying a third right before halftime. Unfortunately, Ahrens stepped out of bounds on his shot, directly in front of the IUPUI bench. The entire opposing bench pointed it out, and it resulted in Ohio State’s fifth turnover of the half.
Ahrens did not start the second half of tonight’s game, as Holtmann opted to go with Brown — who scored six points in the first half — instead.
Eugene Brown is forcing Holtmann’s hand
Holtmann has praised Brown’s defensive versatility since he was a true freshman. At 6-foot-6 and nearly 200 pounds, he can guard the 1 through 4 spots at any time and he can even take some smaller centers if need be. But his offensive game is still “developing” as Holtmann put it a few weeks ago, and thus he’s only playing about 11 minutes per game.
Against IUPUI, Brown forced Holtmann’s hand, scoring six points in the first half while his teammate Ahrens continued to struggle to simply get shots off. Holtmann started Brown in the second half, and the sophomore responded by scoring seven more points in the first five minutes of the second half, notching a career-high 13 points with 15 minutes left to play.
The decision to start Brown or Ahrens moving forward will be something to keep an eye on after the latter’s great game tonight and Ahrens’ struggles.
Liddell’s 1,000th point will have to wait until Saturday
As stated earlier, Liddell entered tonight’s game with 975 career points — 25 shy of becoming the 60th player in Ohio State history to hit 1K. Because the Buckeyes got everyone involved, Liddell wound up only taking seven shots and scoring 13 points. He will have another opportunity to crack the 1000 club Saturday against Nebraska — and he’ll need a dozen points to get it.
No. 19 Ohio State (12-4, 5-2) now has three days to prepare for the Nebraska Cornhuskers (6-13, 0-8), who have yet to win a conference game, have lost six games in a row, and 11 of their last 12. Their biggest win this season came against Sam Houston State (10-9) out of the WAC, who currently lead their conference but are No. 233 in KenPom. The ‘Huskers took the Buckeyes to overtime in Lincoln on January 2, but ultimately Ohio State pulled away and won, 87-79.
Nebraska expects to have last year’s second-leading scorer Trey McGowens back in the lineup after missing two months with a broken right foot suffered during a loss to Creighton on November 16. Ohio State hopes Justice Sueing and Seth Towns will be available, but there has not been an update on their availability for the weekend as of today.
The Ohio State-Nebraska matchup tips off Saturday at 2:15 p.m. ET at the Schottenstein Center. The game will be broadcast on BTN.