The transfer portal action is over. The summer international trip is over. Speculating on how the freshmen will look is over. Wondering if Justice Sueing will ever actually play in a basketball game again is over. The off-season is over, and so is the pre-season. We no longer have to use our imaginations to guess how the 124th iteration of Ohio State men’s basketball will look — now we can use our eyes.
College basketball is back. These games count, and the Buckeyes’ first real game was tonight against the Robert Morris Colonials out of the Horizon League.
RMU (0-1) went 8-24, and 5-16 in Horizon League play last year, but returned nearly all of their core from last season. Despite this, they were picked to finish eighth in the league (out of 11) in both the pre-season media poll and The Field of 68’s Basketball Almanac. They were the No. 294 team in the nation leading into tonight’s game, according to KenPom.
After missing all but two games last season with a lower abdominal/groin injury, Justice Sueing returned to the starting lineup for Ohio State (1-0) against the Colonials. Alongside him was Zed Key, Bruce Thornton, Isaac Likekele, and Sean McNeil — with the last three of those making their Ohio State debuts. Robert Morris went with a lineup of Enoch Cheeks, Kahliel Spear, Stephaun Walker, Jackson Last, and Josh Corbin.
The first shot attempt of the season for Ohio State was a jumper from near the free throw line for McNeil that rattled in and out, but Key opened the scoring moments later with a three-pointer from the right wing — his first career make on his first career attempt. Sueing was aggressive early attacking the basket, scoring two points after tipping in his own miss and another two on a pair of free throws — his first points in 360 days, exactly. The Buckeyes held a 9-6 lead at the under-16 media timeout.
But the Buckeyes couldn’t defend worth a lick over the next few minutes, as Robert Morris strung together some shots and took a 14-13 lead on Spears’ long jumper at the 13:12 mark of the first half. While the Colonials went on a little scoring run, Ohio State went three- straight minutes without scoring and also turned the ball over three times.
The Buckeyes regained a five-point lead by the under-eight timeout, powered by two things they didn’t have last season — Zed Key three-pointers and Justice Sueing (in general). Key had two triples in the first half, while Sueing had nine points on 3-5 shooting over the first 13 minutes. Still, RMU hung around, shooting in the 40-50% range for most of the first half.
Ohio State closed the first half on a 6-0 run, taking a 42-28 lead into the locker room at halftime. Sueing led all Buckeyes with 12 points on 4-8 shooting, but all nine OSU players who saw first-half minutes scored. Cheeks led Robert Morris with a dozen as well, on 5-8 shooting. Ohio State led the first-half rebounding battle 22-15, with Likekele leading the pack with five boards.
The 10-ish point deficit that Robert Morris was clinging to for much of the first half doubled quickly in the second half, as Ohio State went up by 20 points on Key’s layup below the basket with 17:01 remaining. After hanging out on the perimeter for most of the first half and being a little three-happy, he began to take advantage of his size and strength advantages over RMU, scoring six points over the first three minutes of the second half.
The Buckeyes extended their lead to 71-44 by the under-eight media timeout. Ohio State was subbing pretty liberally, rotating nine guys in and out and getting contributions from everyone. They were also dominating on the glass, with a 36-21 rebounding advantage with eight minutes remaining.
Eight more minutes of blowout basketball happened from that point onward, but the important thing is that Ohio State thoroughly disposed of Robert Morris in the second half en route to a 91-53 win Monday night.
oooohhhhhhiiiiiiiiooooo pic.twitter.com/ZJHNclwv82— Ohio State Hoops (@OhioStateHoops) November 8, 2022
Sueing led Ohio State with 20 points on 8-14 shooting, including 2-3 from beyond the arc. Sensabaugh (17), Key (13), and Tanner Holden (12), all scored in double digits as well. Likekele finished just short of a triple double with 9 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists.
Cheeks led Robert Morris with 17 points on 7-15 shooting.
If you didn’t catch Monday night’s season-opener or you refused to purchase BTN+ for one game, here are a few key moments and accomplishments from tonight’s game:
Threes for Key but not for thee
There was a narrative building over the off-season that Key was going to attempt a few three-pointers this season. Chris Holtmann compared Key’s progress to Kaleb Wesson’s a few years ago, who went from not attempting any triples as a freshman to a 40%+ shooter from long range after his junior season.
However, many people were skeptical since Key is now a junior and — before tonight — had never attempted a shot from beyond the line.
Naturally, he knocked down his first two attempts from three-point land, including the first one to open the scoring. Key was 2-3 from downtown in the first half for six points and did not take a shot below the basket. That’s not at all how Holtmann drew it up, and it’s unlikely that it’ll go like that again this season.
Ice over top of the mop
Right over the mop. @_Issaaac x @OhioStateHoops pic.twitter.com/zfDiJBaAVu— Ohio State on BTN (@OhioStateOnBTN) November 8, 2022
Two minutes into the game with Ohio State leading 5-2, Cheeks turned the ball over below the basket and it was swiped by Likekele. At the same time, an Ohio State manager was mopping up sweat below the opposite basket, and did not see the fast break coming his way. With two players bearing down on him, the manager dropped the mop below the basket and bailed out. Likekele laid the ball up for two fast break points — mop be damned — to give OSU a 7-2 lead.
Colonials not rolling over early
Despite being huge underdogs in the season opener, Robert Morris didn’t back down for most of the first half, and even took the lead for a few minutes. Trailing 13-10 with just under 14 minutes remaining in the first half, Cheeks hit a three-pointer and Spears hit a long, stepback two to give the Colonials a 15-13 lead. That lead lasted just 32 seconds, but they still went into the halftime break down 14 points — hardly an insurmountable lead.
Sueing making an impact after one year off
Sueing’s last time on a basketball court was November 12, 2021 against Niagara. He went on to miss the final four and a half months of the season last year, finishing with just 31 minutes logged.
After 360 days off, Sueing returned tonight with a bang, scoring 12 points himself in the first half plus assisting on two other baskets. He also went 2-3 from three-point land a blocked a shot. His versatility was sorely missed last season, and he showed no ill-effects from the groin injury that held him out all of last season or the sprained ankle that held him out of the exhibition against Chaminade.
He would go on to finish with 20 points, the second-most he’s ever scored as a Buckeye. His 14 shot attempts were also the most he’s ever taken since transferring to Ohio State in 2019.
Freshman to freshman connection
While Thornton was the only freshman to start tonight, Felix Okpara, Roddy Gayle, and Brice Sensabaugh all played a ton off the bench. Gayle showed a ton of patience on a pass to Sensabaugh towards the end of the first half, dishing a line drive over Robert Morris’ zone defense to Sensabaugh on the right block for a layup to give Ohio State a 36-26 lead with 2:17 remaining in the first half.
Sensabaugh would end with 17 points, while Gayle scored seven.
(I don’t know if anyone clipped the highlight or not, but just trust me on this one, it was impressive)
Okay, no more threes, Zed
Key had six points and five rebounds in the first half, but all three of his shots came from beyond the arc. Sure, Zed hit two of those three shots, but we all — Holtmann included — know that’s not his game. After the halftime break, Key came out and scored six points immediately, four points on two layups and two points on free throws that he earned below the basket.
Key’s layup at the 17:01 mark gave Ohio State a 51-31 lead.
20-piece for Sueing
With his fast break dunk at the 8:44 mark of the second half, Sueing reached the 20-point plateau for the first time since March 14, 2021 — the Big Ten Tournament title game against Illinois two seasons ago.
Key’s third career double double
With his offensive rebound at the 6:13 mark, Key registered his third career double-double. He scored 13 points to go along with 10 rebounds over 26 minutes. It is also noteworthy that after picking up two fouls over the first five minutes of the game, he did not commit another foul for the remainder of the game.
Ohio State (1-0) welcomes Charleston Southern to the Schottenstein Center Thursday evening at 6:30 p.m. E.T. The Buccaneers finished in last place in the Big South conference last season with a 1-15 record in conference play. They enter the season as the No. 324 team in the country (out of 364) according to KenPom. That game will be broadcast on Big Ten Network.