After stumbling on the road earlier this week, the No. 25 Ohio State Buckeyes men’s basketball team looks to bounce back today against St. Francis PA before moving on to their first conference game of the season.
The Buckeyes return home after falling to No. 17 Duke in Durham 81-72 Wednesday in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. After being up early and keeping things close in the first half, Ohio State fell behind shortly after the break by as many as 13 points.
But then came the comeback late in the game, with the Buckeyes showing gritty effort to pull within five with just minutes left in the second half. In fact, the Buckeyes outscored Duke 43-42 in the second half. Unfortunately, Chris Holtmann’s squad couldn’t quite pull off the magic of last season when the Buckeyes beat the top-ranked Blue Devils.
Ohio State shot 47% from the field, but an abysmal 23% from range. Junior forward Zed Key led the Buckeyes in scoring with 21 points on the night, most of which came in the second half with Key sitting some in the first half with foul trouble. Key added a team-high eight rebounds on the evening.
Seniors Sean McNeil and Justice Sueing had 14 and 12 points, respectively, while freshman guard Bruce Thornton continued his strong early season run with 11 points on the night. Ohio State had just nine points from the bench. In particular, freshman forward Brice Sensabaugh struggled, really, for the first time this season, putting up just four points after averaging double figures in his first six games.
Fouls were also an issue for the Buckeyes against Duke. Ohio State gave up 25 personal fouls and Duke was most unfortunately quite reliable from the free throw line, connecting on 26-of-30 attempts. However, the physical play also meant a fairly even match on rebounds, with Duke pulling in 34 to the Buckeyes’ 31.
Turnovers, however, were an issue that couldn’t be explained away. Ohio State had 16 turnovers (the season high was 17 against Eastern Illinois). It was a disappointing performance in that area considering the Buckeyes had averaged eight over the preceding three-game stretch.
While no losses are good, this loss looks less bad than others and shouldn’t break Ohio State’s momentum moving into the December schedule. The Buckeyes posted impressive wins over Cincinnati and a ranked Texas Tech after losing to No. 17 San Diego State in Maui over Thanksgiving week.
Now, Ohio State looks to bounce back and work out the kinks in its final matchup before conference play begins against Rutgers next week. Fortunately, the Buckeyes will have a shot against a 2-6 St. Francis team.
The Buckeyes’ opponent for this afternoon comes from the Northeast Conference and has had a notable history on the hardcourt, including alumni Norm Van Lier, a Chicago Bulls great from the 1970s.
More recently (this season), the St. Francis Red Flash are 2-6 with wins over Hartford and Franciscan. However, the Red Flash have hung around in many of their games. Against Butler, St. Francis was within two late in the first half before the Bulldogs pulled away for a 95-67 win.
The Red Flash are losers of their last two games. In their last outing, the squad fell to Bucknell in similar fashion. After pulling within three points in the second half, Bucknell outpaced St. Francis for an 89-65 win.
Despite shooting just 39% from the field against Bucknell, the Red Flash were respectable from range, connecting on 11-of-29 three-point attempts (38%). However, they missed two-thirds of their free-throw attempts and had 13 turnovers. Bucknell also out-rebounded St. Francis by a 43-28 margin.
In that game, junior forward Josh Cohen led the Red Flash in scoring with 18 points on the night. Junior guard Brad McCabe was the only other St. Francis player in double figures, adding a dozen points off the bench.
For the second-straight year, Cohen leads the Red Flash in scoring on the season, averaging more than 20 points per game. He’s also had a team-high 6.8 rebounds per game. Shooting 67% from the field, Cohen has scored in double figures every game this season. Though not an outside threat at all (he hasn’t attempted a three-pointer since the opening game of St. Francis’ 2020-21 campaign), the 6-foot-10 forward has made himself a consistent threat in the paint.
Beyond Cohen, the Red Flash lost their second and third-leading scorers from their 2021-22 campaign. However, junior guard Maxwell Land, who averaged 11 points per game last season, is putting up 13 points and six rebounds per game this year. Freshman guard Landon Moore has also been a bright newcomer for the squad, putting up 12 points per game.
The Red Flash are led by Robby Krimmel, an alumni of St. Francis who played point guard for the Red Flash from 1996-2000. He’s amassed a 136-176 record at St. Francis since taking the helm in 2012, though his in-conference record is close to 0.500. While the Red Flash have never made the NCAA Tournament under Krimmel (or generally since 1991), they did win a regular season title in 2019 which also earned Krimmel conference coach of the year honors.
The Buckeyes have had an edge since leaving Columbus for Maui, playing exciting basketball despite their most recent loss to Duke on the road. Ohio State hasn’t played in Columbus since November 16, when the Buckeyes defeated Eastern Illinois 65-43. Overall, Ohio State is 3-0 this season at home. Ohio State also has not entertained the non-elite schedule the way it has in the past, putting opponents away early during its homestand. This afternoon’s matchup would seem to fall in a similar vein.
Still, this game is an opportunity for the Buckeyes. While the loss to Duke was not a devastating blowout, it did expose some areas Ohio State must fine tune ahead of what’s always a brutal conference schedule. That schedule happens to start next week against Rutgers before taking a hiatus until January.
In particular, turnovers remain an issue in the early going of the season. Ohio State is averaging 12 per game, good for 95th in the NCAA. Worse, the Buckeyes’ assist-to-turnover ratio is an abysmal 0.94, which is 231st in the NCAA. With a lot of new faces and roles on the team, it makes sense that it could take a minute to gel and boost the assist game, but that has to get solved by conference play.
Fortunately for the Buckeyes, St. Francis is in a similar boat with turnovers, coughing the ball up 13 times per game (though with 15 assists).
Ohio State will also need to get its fouls in check. As mentioned, fouls were also a problem against Duke, with three players fouling out and 25 total team fouls that sent a very good free throw shooting team to the line in a narrow game. Most notably, Sensabaugh fouled out having played just 14 minutes Wednesday. Holtmann will likely try to reincorporate Sensabaugh, who is the second-leading scorer on Ohio State behind Sueing, after he was stymied with just four points against the Blue Devils.
This afternoon, Ohio State will also face an opponent who has some sticking ability and a veteran leader who can score down low. It’ll be a good test for Chris Holtmann’s defense.
Still, things are looking up for the Buckeyes with a team that’s come together really well through seven games. Ohio State will need to shake off the loss to Duke and channel that energy into building on its early season momentum this afternoon.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 97.9%
Time: 12 p.m. ET