The Ohio State Buckeyes men’s basketball team has had a hot start to the season, emerging with a pair of blowout wins in their first week of play. Now, the Buckeyes look to finish working out the kinks against Eastern Illinois before traveling to the Maui Invitational and facing fierce competition like San Diego State and Cincinnati/Arizona (and more!). Ohio State will also have a crack at a Mike Krzyewski-less Duke before the month is out.
Fortunately, those kinks seem to be few and far between in the early going. Most recently, the Buckeyes emerged with an 82-56 win over Charleston Southern last Thursday. While the Buccaneers scored the game’s opening points, that would be Charleston Southern’s only lead of the evening. Ohio State was up 46-22 by halftime and never looked back.
Anchored by junior forward Zed Key’s second-straight double-double, the Buckeyes shot 52% from the field and had 47 rebounds to the Buccaneers’ 28. Key was one of four Buckeyes scoring in double figures on the evening, alongside senior forward Justice Sueing, senior guard Sean McNeil and freshman forward Brice Sensabaugh. Of note, Sensabaugh was the leading scorer off the bench for Ohio State with 14 points.
However, it wasn’t all sunshine and roses. After shooting well from range in the season opener, the Buckeyes struggled from beyond the arc against Charleston Southern, making just 4-of-15 attempts. They also had 14 turnovers to the Buccaneers’ nine.
Ohio State certainly benefited from the additions of McNeil and Sensabaugh alongside veterans Key and Sueing. McNeil came from West Virginia, where he played for three seasons (starting two) for the Mountaineers. Sensabaugh, meanwhile, was the No. 62 player in his recruiting class and Florida’s Mr. Basketball. They’ve been critical additions on a squad that lost its three top-scorers from the 2021-22 season.
Two other transfers who have made an impact in the early going are senior guards Issac Likekele, who came to Columbus from Oklahoma State, and Tanner Holden from Wright State. Likekele has started his first two games for the Buckeyes, and had four points, five rebounds and four assists against the Buccaneers last week.
Freshman guard Bruce Thornton, Georgia’s Gatorade Player of the Year last year, has rounded out the Buckeyes’ starting five in their opening games. He had eight points and two assists against Charleston Southern.
Sueing, who himself came to Ohio State as a transfer from Cal ahead of the 2020-21 season, has already exceeded his minutes from last year, when he only played two games and missed most of the season with a groin injury. Suing has already scored 31 points on the young season.
Now, with a week of rest, Ohio State will look to improve in a few key areas after its first two games and continue to hum away in the season’s early going.
You might know Eastern Illinois as the alma mater of Tony Romo and Jimmy Garoppolo. The university, like Ohio State’s most recent opponent, is also located in Charleston (Illinois, this time). However, they’re not making much more of a name for themselves on the hard court.
Eastern Illinois comes to Columbus still seeking its first win of the season. The Panthers are 0-3 with losses to Illinois, Illinois State and, most recently, Central Michigan by a score of 76-60. In that most recent loss Sunday, the Panthers shot just 31% from the field and 51% from the free throw line. That’s important, because they missed 17 free throws in their 16-point loss. The Chippewas also outrebounded Eastern Illinois 49-37, but had 20 turnovers to the Panthers’ 15 (neither is a great mark).
The Panthers lost their two leading scorers from the 2020-21 season, but they’ve benefited early this year from two inbound transfers. Kinyon Hodges has led the Panthers in scoring in all three of their games this season. In their loss to the Chippewas, Hodges had 10 points (the only player in double-figures on the day), four rebounds and three assists. A junior college transfer, Hodges is seeing his first Division I ball this season and is leading his team with nearly 13 points per game. He’s also been a bright spot from range, connecting on 50% of his attempts from beyond the arc.
Yaakema Rose came to Eastern Illinois from Division II Missouri St. Louis, where he was an All-Great Lakes Valley Conference Selection. The senior guard averaged 12 points and five rebounds in the 2021-22 season and helped lead his team to the Division II NCAA Tournament Sweet 16. This season, Rose is averaging nearly eight points and five rebounds per game.
Eastern Illinois is led by Marty Simmons, who is in his second season coaching the Panthers, having previously spent 11 seasons at Evansville. In his first season with Eastern Illinois, Simmons went 5-26 and finished 10th in the Ohio Valley Conference. Unfortunately, things are not off to a great start for Simmons as he’s trying to get Eastern Illinois back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001. The 57-year old Simmons was himself Illinois Mr. Basketball in 1983 before playing his college ball at Indiana and Evansville.
The Buckeyes have made quick work of their first two non-conference opponents of the season. All signs indicate that this evening’s matchup should go a similar direction. Unlike what we’ve seen in recent years (read: opening up with a one-point win over Akron last year), Ohio State has not entertained these non-conference competitors in the first week of play this season.
However, Ohio State’s strength of schedule takes a leap next week, and things will only get harder from here on out for the Buckeyes. That means that tonight’s matchup against the Panthers is the last chance before a tough stretch to make sure the melange of transfers, freshmen and veteran players are in-sync. Junior guard Eugene Brown III, who missed the opening two games while in concussion protocol, will not be available tonight either. His status for the Maui Invitational is still unknown.
One area Chris Holtmann and the Buckeyes will be looking to fix early is turnovers. So far this season, they’re averaging 14 per game — not great. Ohio State will also likely try to nip an emerging free throw issue in the bud, as the Buckeyes have missed 10-of-39 attempts this season. While neither of these issues would likely lead to the Buckeyes’ downfall against Eastern Illinois, they absolutely could be problematic against opponents the Buckeyes will see very soon.
However, there are bright spots: the team has seemed to gel very well in its first two games. Scoring seems to be a shared responsibility, with four players in double figures in both matchups and 33 and 29 points off the bench against Robert Morris and Charleston Southern, respectively. They’ve outrebounded their opponents by a long shot. Defensively, the Buckeyes have kept opponents under 34% shooting from the field (and even worse from range) in both their games.
Ohio State has started humming away and building momentum in the early going this season. Now, the Buckeyes have one more chance to build confidence among a team that’s new to each other before the meat of their season.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 97.9%
Time: 7 p.m. ET