Following a season-opening 91-53 win over Robert Morris on Monday night, Ohio State is back on the hardwood tonight, hosting the Charleston Southern Buccaneers. This will be the second of three home games to open the season for the Buckeyes before they head to Hawaii to play three games in the Maui Invitational.
Ohio State couldn’t have asked for a better start to the season with the victory over Robert Morris on Monday night. After a back-and-forth first nine minutes of the game, the Buckeyes took the lead for good when Zed Key hit a three-pointer with 11:11 left in the first half to give Ohio State a 16-15 lead. The Buckeyes would extend the lead to 42-28 at halftime, and building on that lead in the second half to earn the 38-point victory.
The best story to come out of the opener was the return of Justice Sueing, who only played in two games last season. After playing a total of 31 minutes and scoring 12 points in those two games last year, Sueing scored 20 points and recorded three steals in 24 minutes on Monday night. The 20 points by the guard was his second-highest scoring output in an Ohio State uniform, with his high mark with the school coming in the 2021 Big Ten Tournament Final against Illinois, where he scored 22 points in the overtime loss.
Sueing is going to be a crucial piece to the Buckeyes this year, since he is familiar with the style of basketball head coach Chris Holtmann wants to play, and he knows exactly what Holtmann expects out of his players on and off the court. This year’s Ohio State team has a ton of new pieces between the crop of talented freshmen that have joined the team, along with a number of transfers.
A couple transfers that asserted themselves on Monday night were Issac Likekele from Oklahoma State and Tanner Holden from Wright State. Likekele nearly notched a double-double in his first game with the Buckeyes, finishing with nine points and nine rebounds, as well as six assists. Likekele was in the starting lineup for Ohio State against Robert Morris, while Holden came off the bench and hit all five of his field goal attempts, finishing with 12 points in 18 minutes.
The freshmen were led by Brice Sensabaugh, who showed why he was Florida’s Gatorade Player of the Year, scoring 17 points in 18 minutes off the bench. Sensabaugh almost recorded a double-double in his first collegiate game, adding nine rebounds to his scoring output. Georgia Gatorade Player of the Year Bruce Thornton, Roddy Gayle Jr., and Felix Okpara also saw a healthy amount of time in Monday’s victory, with the trio each playing at least 13 minutes.
Along with Sueing, the other key returning player for Ohio State this year is Zed Key. After playing mostly down in the paint during his first two years in Columbus, Key used the offseason to expand his range. After not taking a three-pointer in his first 60 games in the scarlet and gray, Key attempted three triples on Monday, hitting two of his long distance shots. Key finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds, marking the third double-double of his career. Key’s first two double-doubles came against Cleveland State in 2020 and at Rutgers in February.
Tonight’s opponent is the Charleston Southern Buccaneers, who won their season opener on Monday, beating Division-II Toccoa Falls 83-52. Claudell Harris Jr. led the team with 26 points in 28 minutes off the bench. Cheikh Faye, Taje’ Kelly, and Kalib Clinton were the other three Buccaneers that were able to reach double digits in the scoring column in the easy victory. Even though Charleston Southern won by 31 points, they didn’t exactly light it up from the field, hitting 38% of their field goal attempts, and just 23.5% of their three-point attempts.
The Buccaneers are now in their 18th season under head coach Barclay Radebaugh, who has a 217-299 record during his time at the school. Radebaugh was named the Big South Coach of the Year in 2012 and 2015, but Charleston Southern has struggled recently, posting just a 9-43 record over the last two seasons. The Buccaneers are working to try and earn their first, and only, NCAA Tournament appearance since 1997 when they lost to UCLA 109-75 in the first round.
Despite their recent struggles, Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann is familiar with the Charleston Southern head coach, who he faced during his time at Gardner Webb, posting a 4-2 record against the Buccaneers. Holtmann said in Wednesday’s press conference that Radebaugh “does a really good job” and that they “have a young group with a couple all-conference-caliber players who are really tough.” Charleston Southern beat Missouri a couple years ago, so the Buckeyes can’t take anything for granted.
Not only will Ohio State have to keep tabs on Harris, who was second the team last year with 10.3 points per game, the Buckeyes will look to lock down Tahlik Chavez. The junior guard struggled in the opener, going 1-12 from the field and scoring just five points. Last year Chavez was the team’s leading scoring with 11.7 points per game. Chavez is a big threat from behind the arc, as he was able to hit at least five three-pointers in seven games last season.
Holtmann is well aware of just how dangerous Chavez is when it comes to scoring. Taje’ Kelly is another player that Ohio State will have to keep tabs on in tonight’s game. Holtmann described Kelly as “a big kid and is a load down low”. Listed at 253 pounds, Kelly is going to give the Buckeyes a physical test in the paint.
Much like Monday night’s game, Ohio State shouldn’t have too much trouble with Charleston Southern tonight. While we have seen the Buckeyes struggle in games against lesser competition in the past, Ohio State looked pretty locked in for the final 30 minutes of the game earlier this week.
With so many new parts on the team between freshmen and transfers, Holtmann knows how important these games are, even if they don’t have any value come March when the selection committee is deciding the NCAA Tournament field. What Holtmann’s goal is with these first three games of the year is to get all the new faces to gel with returning starters Justice Sueing, Zed Key, and Eugene Brown III, who missed Monday night’s game due to a concussion. Ohio State’s first game in Maui is less than two weeks away, and the Buckeyes will see a serious step up in competition when they take on San Diego State.
Even though the opponent is one of the weaker ones Ohio State will take on this year, the Buckeye players are hungry to state their cases for playing time. It wouldn’t be surprising to see tonight’s game look a lot like Monday’s game, especially if Charleston Southern struggles from the field, which they did at times in their opener against Toccoa Falls.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 96.2%
Time: 6:30 p.m. ET