We are officially back. The Ohio State men’s basketball Buckeyes host Robert Morris on Monday night to start off their basketball season. The Buckeyes faced Chaminade in an exhibition game last Tuesday, winning easily 101-57.
In the exhibition game, Tanner Holden lead the way for Ohio State with 25 points off the bench. There are a lot of different ways that Chris Holtmann and his staff can go with the starting lineup to start the season and for the exhibition, the Buckeyes started Isaac Likekele, Bruce Thornton, Sean McNeil, Zed Key and Brice Sensabaugh. Holden, Felix Okpara and Roddy Gayle played the most minutes off the bench, while Justice Sueing (ankle) and Eugene Brown (concussion) did not play.
It should be worth noting that if the game was not an exhibition and actually counted, Sueing likely would have played — according to Ohio State. Both are questionable for the game tonight.
Gayle added 14 points off the bench, and Key lead the starters with 15 points and five rebounds. All of the freshmen were productive along with Gayle, as Okpara finished with nine rebounds, Thornton finished with 11 assists, Sensabaugh scored eight points, eight rebounds and three assists, and Bowen Hardman had 12 points on four three-pointers. It should also be noted that Ohio State recorded 24 assists to just 11 turnovers.
Obviously, it was only an exhibition against a Division-II program and not too much can be taken away from the game, but they Buckeyes did what they had to do to make sure no one was freaking out heading into the season. Louisville cannot say the same.
The availability of Sueing and Brown will be key. Sueing is the best player on the team for Ohio State and Brown is an experienced and important rotational player for the Buckeyes that plays both ends of the floor. If Sueing can go, he will likely jump into the starting lineup. It appears his injury is not serious, and even if he doesn’t play, he should be ready to go Thursday against Charleston Southern.
It has been well known that the freshmen will have to play key roles early, but if Sueing or Brown miss any real time, that will be amplified and could determine the outcomes of some of the early non-conference games.
This is an interesting matchup for a number of reasons. First off, the two teams are coming into this one in very different positions. Ohio State enters as a team with five new freshmen, three new transfers, and only two guys returning who played valuable minutes last season (Key and Brown) and Brown is questionable to play with a concussion.
Robert Morris, however, is returning three of their top four scorers. The Colonels struggled last season, only going 8-24 overall and 5-16 in conference.
For RMU, graduate senior Kahliel Spear is back after leading the Colonels last season with 14.7 points per game. Spear is not much of a deep ball shooter, shooting just 8-for-30 (.267) last season from three-point land, but the 6-foot-7 forward still shot an efficient 55 percent from the field. Spear also averaged 7.7 rebounds with 30 total steals and 35 blocks in 32 games.
The Colonels lost their top scoring guard Rasheem Dunn to graduation, but he only played 12 games last season. Dunn averaged 12.8 points per game and 3.7 rebounds per game. Michael Green III and Enoch Cheeks are returning as the third and fourth leading scorers for Robert Morris last season, averaging 10.4 and 9.2 points per game, respectively. Kam Farris also averaged 9.2 points per game, but he transferred to Marist in the offseason.
For Ohio State, there are plenty of unknowns with this Buckeye team, particularly on offense after losing E.J. Liddell, Malaki Branham, and Kyle Young, but they are bringing in talented scorers like Sean McNeil, Isaac Likekele and Tanner Holden to shoulder some of that load.
Another fun fact to note before watching this game (which unfortunately is only streaming on BTN+): the last time Ohio State faced Robert Morris was November 10, 2017. That also happened to be the very first game that Chris Holtmann coached at Ohio State — having been hired during the summer of 2017. The Buckeyes won that game 95-64, behind 19 points and 11 rebounds from Keita Bates-Diop.
Ohio State pretty much has to win their first three games, and I think they start that off with a win over Robert Morris. Even though the Colonels should be much improved from last season, Ohio State just has too many weapons and too much depth for the Colonels to compete with.
People will look at this game and point to the Akron game from last season, the season opener in which the Buckeyes needed a last second layup from Zed Key to win the game. However, Akron ended up winning the Mid-American Conference, going to the NCAA tournament, and giving the UCLA Bruins all they could handle in a 4-13 matchup.
Robert Morris is not Akron, and Ohio State may struggle a bit early as the new group tries to gel together, they will eventually pull away in the second half and move to 1-0 on the season.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 95.1%
Line (According to DraftKings Sportsbook): Ohio State (-20.5)
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
TV: BTN Plus