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Strong second half pushes Ohio State past Eastern Illinois 65-43

Ohio State won, but it may have been the least aesthetically pleasing victory of the Chris Holtmann era.

NCAA Basketball: Eastern Illinois at Ohio State Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Following a 26-point win over Charleston Southern last week, Ohio State took five days to rest and recover before gearing up for one final tune-up before the Maui Invitational, which begins on Monday. The Eastern Illinois Panthers (0-4), who are statistically one of the 10 worst teams in the nation, stepped onto the court at Value City Arena as 30-point underdogs. It took over 20 minutes to show why, but the Buckeyes coasted once the page was turned at halftime en route to a 22-point victory.

Eastern Illinois opened the season with a 30-point loss to Illinois, but fared better in their two games after that. They returned home to face the Ryan Pedon-led Illinois State Redbirds and lost by five points, before hitting the road and losing 76-60 at Central Michigan. Most folks have them pegged to finish last in the Ohio Valley Conference, but Chris Holtmann noted during his Tuesday press conference that the Panthers “will turn you over quite a bit.” The numbers back this up, too — Eastern Illinois had forced 17 turnovers per game entering Wednesday night’s game. They continued to follow this trend, forcing 17 Ohio State turnovers tonight, too.

Ironically enough, turnovers are the only glaring issue Ohio State had over the first two games, turning it over 14 times against Robert Morris followed by another 14-turnover performance against Charleston Southern. Holtmann and his staff know that laziness will not fly Monday night against No. 17 San Diego State, which has a top-10 defense.

The Buckeyes rolled out a starting lineup of Bruce Thornton, Sean McNeil, Justice Sueing, Isaac Likekele, and Zed Key — the same starters Holtmann has used every game thus far. Eastern Illinois countered with CJ Lane, Sincere Malone, Kinyon Hodges, Nick Ellington, and Caleb Donaldson.

More than any other game over the past two seasons, this one was filthy and mucky for the first several minutes. Ohio State led 4-0 at the first media timeout at the 15:11 mark, shooting 1-6 to get there. Eastern Illinois missed all seven of their shots to that point. Zed Key had Ohio State’s first four points.

After Lane’s three-pointer at the 13:02 mark got Eastern Illinois back within two points, the Buckeyes went on an 11-0 run over the next 2:51 to give themselves an 18-5 lead. The Panthers called time out to regroup but their designed play for Jermaine Hamlin under the basket didn’t work as planned. Ohio State was able to get the rebound and Brice Sensabaugh hit another three-pointer at the other end to make it 21-5.

After Ohio State went up 21-5 about halfway through the first half, the Panthers went on a 15-2 run themselves to pull right back into the game. Yaakema Rose chipped in nine of those 15 himself, outscoring his season average of 7.7 PPG in the first half alone.

Thanks to that furious Panther run to close the first half, Ohio State’s lead was just six points at halftime, 26-20. The Buckeyes shot 31% from the floor in the first stanza and 33% from distance. Eastern Illinois shot 26% overall and 23% from three-point land. 18 of Ohio State’s 29 shots in the first half were of the three-point variety, which was very peculiar considering the competition. Brice Sensabaugh led all scorers in the first half with 13 points.

Ohio State pushed their six-point lead to a 16 over the first seven minutes of the second half, and it was done by a committee of guys. Key, Thornton, Sueing, Likekele, and Sensabaugh all had baskets over a 5:32 stretch early in the second half, giving the Buckeyes a 41-25 lead. Eastern Illinois was forced to call timeout shortly before the under-12 media stoppage as the lead began to balloon and get out of hand.

Eastern Illinois tried to stop Ohio State from making the final score disrespectful, but Brice Sensabaugh’s two free throws with 8:59 remaining pushed the Ohio State lead out to 20 points — their largest of the night at that point. It was also Sensabaugh’s career-high and his first 20-point game at the collegiate level.

The game was safely out of hand at this point. Despite sickly offense from Ohio State during the first half, they still emerged with a 65-43 victory when the final horn sounded. They were led by Sensabaugh’s career-high 20 points. Key also chipped in 10 points and 14 rebounds — his third double-double of the season and the fifth of his career. Rose led Eastern Illinois with his 17 points.

If you didn’t fight through the snow to watch at the Schott or take the time to watch the rock fight on TV, here are a few of the moments that mattered from Ohio State’s third win of the season:

Gross start

The entire first half of this game was tough to watch, but the first four minutes in particular were absolutely disgusting. And by disgusting, I mean both teams looked completely incapable of running the offense. One of those teams was picked to finish dead last in their conference and have not made an NCAA Tournament since 2001. The other is Ohio State.

By the 15:11 mark of the first half, Ohio State led 4-0. The two teams combined to shoot 1-13 at that point, and Zed Key had the only four points in the game.

Lane gets the Panthers back within two

Lane — CJ, not Joey — hit a three-pointer at the 13:02 mark of the first half to get Eastern back within two points, 7-5. The Panthers were 1-9 shooting before that bucket, and they still only trailed by two points. Those were Lane’s only points of the game.

Roddy Gayle on both ends

After popping a three-pointer at the 13:47 mark to make it 7-2 Buckeyes, Gayle stole the ball underneath the basket from Rudolfo Bolis and brought it back up the floor. He found Sensabaugh for a three that he missed, but Key was able to corral the rebound and find Sensabaugh again for a second attempt from the opposite wing, and he canned it. His triple made it 11-5 with 12:01 to go in the first half. Gayle would finish with 8 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and a block over 19 minutes.

Sensabaugh’s scores 10 points over 2:46

Sensabaugh hadn’t scored at all over the first eight minutes of the game, but he went on a tear for a three-minute stretch starting with that three-pointer at the 12:01 mark. Over the next 2:46, he had a mid-range jumper, a layup on the left block, and another three to make it a 10-0 Sensabaugh run. His quick 10 put Ohio State up 16 with nine minutes left in the first half.

Yaakema Rose 8-0 run

Right when it looked like Ohio State was going to blow the doors off of this one, they went ice cold and Eastern Illinois’ Yaakema Rose caught fire. The 5-foot-9 graduate transfer averaged 7.7 points per game entering tonight’s contest, but he ripped off eight straight on his own over an 80-second stretch to get his Panthers back within eight points. Ohio State held a 21-13 lead after Rose’s 8-0 run.

Rose would go on to finish with a season-high 17 points, as well as 6 rebounds and 3 steals.

Eastern’s 15-2 run makes things close at half

As it turned out, Rose’s 8-0 run turned out to be part of a much larger 15-2 run by Eastern Illinois that got them back within six points at halftime. The Panthers held Ohio State to two points over a seven-minute stretch late in the first half, closing the gap and leaving the small crowd stunned. The Buckeyes led 26-20 at halftime.

Ohio State’s makes their own 15-2 run

The Panthers’ 15-2 run in the first half put a scare in the Buckeyes — and their fans — but Ohio State returned the favor with a 15-2 run of their own in the second half to give them some breathing room. After Eastern scored the first three points of the first half to make it a one-possession game, it went like this:

  • Key layup
  • Thornton three-pointer
  • Sueing layup
  • Likekele layup
  • Kyle Thomas dunk (for Eastern)
  • Sueing fouled on a layup, hits both free throws
  • Sensabaugh dunk
  • Key tip-in off the Sensabaugh missed three-pointer

After all of that action, the Buckeyes led 41-25 at the under-12 timeout.

Sensabaugh’s first 20-point game

After looking a bit jumpy and settling for too many jump shots during the season opener, things looked a lot calmer and in control for Sensabaugh in game two against Charleston Southern, even if the final line didn’t reflect that.

Tonight, on a night where Ohio State only scored 26 points in the first half against one of the worst teams in the country, the freshman put his head down and attacked the basket repeatedly while also mixing in some three-point attempts. After hitting two free throws with 8:59 left in the game, he’d registered his first 20-point game in his collegiate career.

Sensabaugh still looks raw at times, but at nearly 240 pounds he’ll become a real weapon for this Ohio State team if he can reliably score at all three levels like he did on Wednesday night.

Buckeyes continue to struggle with turnovers

This wasn’t a specific “moment” but after averaging 14 turnovers per game over the first two games this season, the Buckeyes continued to struggle holding on to the basketball. They topped that number on Wednesday night, turning it over 17 times against Eastern Illinois. Not taking care of the basketball can be glossed over when you’re playing inferior competition, but it absolutely will haunt this team next week when they’re playing the likes of San Diego State, Arizona, or Arkansas.

Up Next:

Ohio State (3-0) will hop on an airplane tomorrow morning and fly to Hawaii, where they’ll get four days off before squaring up with No. 17 San Diego State (3-0) in the first round of the Maui Invitational. The Aztecs are allowing 64.6 points per game this season and have the No. 9 defense in the country, according to KenPom. Ohio State’s first-round Maui bout with San Diego State will tip off at 9:00 p.m. E.T. Monday night, and will be broadcast on ESPN.