The last two games have been a tale of two buzzer-beaters for the Ohio State Buckeyes men’s basketball team. First, the Buckeyes overcame Rutgers in their first conference game of the season on a Tanner Holden three-pointer as time expired. Then, Ohio State fell in overtime to North Carolina after the Tar Heels hit a buzzer-beater of their own at the end of regulation to force extra minutes.
Hopefully, things will not be that close when the Buckeyes face Maine this evening in their final matchup before Christmas and their penultimate game of 2022.
The Buckeyes return home after the CBS Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden, where they fell to the Tar Heels, 89-84. After some back and forth early in the first half, Ohio State took control and led for much of the remainder of regulation — that is until North Carolina tied things up at 72-all with 2:11 remaining in the second half. The pair would trade narrow leads and ties for the next two minutes, including a successful jumper from freshman forward Brice Sensabaugh with three seconds left in what looked like a game-winner for the Buckeyes.
Then, UNC’s Pete Nance hit a jumper of his own with one second remaining to send things to overtime. North Carolina didn’t relinquish its lead for the entire overtime period, during which the Buckeyes would score just five points.
Ohio State finished the game shooting 46% from the field, including 38% from range. The Tar Heels outrebounded Ohio State by a 48-42 margin. In just his second start of the season, Sensabaugh led the Buckeyes in scoring with 22 points on the day. He also added eight rebounds. The freshman’s performance was clutch, including his two-point jumper that looked like it would seal the win for Ohio State.
Three of Sensabaugh’s teammates also scored in double figures. Freshman guard Bruce Thornton added 17 points, senior forward Justice Sueing had 16 and junior forward Zed Key added 11. Sueing also led the team in rebounds with nine. The Buckeyes totaled 11 points off the bench.
Ohio State continued to struggle in two key areas: turnovers and free throws. The Buckeyes are averaging a mediocre 12.2 turnovers per game on the season but had 16 to UNC’s 13 Saturday. Turnovers have been a problem for Ohio State all season, particularly in close games. The Buckeyes had 16 versus Duke and 13 in a narrow win over Rutgers.
When it came to free throws, the Buckeyes didn’t have many opportunities from the stripe but connected on just 7-of-14 attempts. Considering how narrow the loss was, these missed points had an obvious impact.
The Buckeyes are now 7-3 on the season with two games remaining on the non-conference slate before Big Ten play begins in earnest on New Year’s Day versus Northwestern in Evanston. Ohio State will be looking to get the bitter loss out of its mind before the holidays — and they have a chance this evening against a 6-4 Maine team.
The Buckeyes’ opponent for this evening hails from the America East Conference and has the notable distinction of being one of 35 Division I programs to have never made the NCAA Tournament.
The Maine Black Bears would seem to be overmatched by the Buckeyes, but they’re certainly not pushovers. Maine is allowing just 63 points per game this season and its largest margin of defeat came in its season opener against Nebraska by 13. The Black Bears are also riding a two-game winning streak.
In their most recent matchup, Maine defeated Merrimack 50-47 in a defensive struggle. The Black Bears connected on just 35% from the field and were ice cold from range, making just 1-of-16 attempts. They were just about even on rebounds with their opponents, with 30 to Merrimack’s 31.
However, Merrimack had 23 turnovers on the day to Maine’s 14. And while Ohio State struggled from the free-throw line, Maine connected on 92% of its free-throw attempts.
In that game, sophomore guard Kellen Tynes led the Black Bears in scoring with 12 points on the night. Junior forward Peter Filipovity added 11 points off the bench, while senior guard Gedi Juozapaitis had 10.
Tynes, from Nova Scotia, leads the Black Bears in scoring on the season, averaging more than 15 points per game and connecting on 57% of his attempts from the field. Tynes came to Maine after two seasons with Montana State, where he had limited minutes but did play in the Bobcats’ 2021 NCAA Tournament First Round matchup. The addition of Tynes was critical for the Black Bears from a scoring perspective since Maine lost its top-three scorers from the 2021-22 season.
Beyond Tynes, Maine also added Juozapaitis, a transfer from Georgia Southern who is originally from London, England and who’s averaging nearly 14 points per game this season. Rounding out the top three international scorers is Filipovity, the only member of the trio who was with the Black Bears last season. The junior forward from Hungary is putting up nearly a dozen points and a team-high six rebounds per game.
The Black Bears are led by Chris Markwood, who is in the first season of his first career head coaching role. From Maine originally, Mackwood was the 2000 Gatorade Player of the Year for his home state. Mackwood started his playing career at Notre Dame before transferring to Maine, where he finished his college ball and started his coaching career as an assistant. Now, having spent time with other programs, Markwood is back with his alma mater with the goal of sending the Black Bears to their first NCAA Tournament.
Ohio State has been dominant at home this season, winning all five of its games at Value City Arena. After a frustrating loss to North Carolina, the Buckeyes must be looking forward to getting back home and getting their rhythm back before starting Big Ten play in the new year.
The Buckeyes’ three losses this season all came against tough competition and, while that doesn’t make it better for a team that’s fallen to 7-3, Chris Holtmann’s team has at least avoided getting tripped up against non-elite opponents that have caused trouble in previous seasons — an important point when considering their NCAA Tournament resume.
Ohio State is heavily favored in this matchup, but there are certainly opportunities for the Buckeyes to fix some of the things that have ailed them in the non-conference season this year. Turnovers, obviously, are a major area the Buckeyes will need to fix. While Ohio State’s assist-to-turnover ratio has improved in recent games, it’s still 1.07, which is good for 160th in Division I. That ratio will need to continue to climb up to set the Buckeyes up for success when they enter a challenging conference slate in just a few weeks.
When it comes to free throws, last week’s performance might have just been a fluke. Regardless, it was also a surprising performance: Ohio State is No. 36 in Division I in free throw percentage on the season, connecting on more than 75% of attempts. Again, when it comes to games that will likely be decided by fewer points (see Ohio State’s recent win over Rutgers), those points matter.
This evening, Ohio State will face an opponent that hasn’t been blown out since its season opener and one which has played lockdown defense in most of its matchups. It’ll be another opportunity for young players to step up and for a team to continue to find a rhythm together, building on its early season momentum.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 96.4%
Time: 8:30 p.m. ET