After a brief foray into power-five competition over the past two weeks, the No. 25 Ohio State Buckeyes (6-2) returned home Saturday afternoon to face off with the St. Francis (PA) Red Flash (2-7) at the Schottenstein Center. St. Francis struggled last season to the tune of a 9-21 record and hasn’t exactly set the world on fire this season either, winning just two games over the first month of the season. KenPom has them as the No. 331 team in the nation (out of 363).
Ohio State, on the other hand, is coming off of a 2-2 stretch against four teams all inside KemPom’s top 75, including three teams who were ranked in the AP Poll at the time of the game. The Buckeyes secured wins over Cincinnati and Texas Tech in Maui, while losing to San Diego State on the island and falling to the Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor just three days ago.
To the surprise of very few, Ohio State bounced back with a win over an extremely overmatched Red Flash squad in front of a sparse, sleepy crowd at the Schottenstein Center this afternoon. In all actuality this game was over as soon as the ball was tipped, but after some first-half frustrations, the Buckeyes turned it on down the stretch and walked away victorious, 96-59. Ohio State outscored their opponent 52-23 after the break.
Ohio State went with the same lineup they’ve been rolling with all season: Bruce Thornton, Sean McNeil, Justice Sueing, Isaac Likekele, and Zed Key. Rob Krimmel’s St. Francis squad started Marlon Hargis, Cam Gregory, Maxwell Land, Landon Moore, and Josh Cohen.
The Buckeyes overwhelmed St. Francis from the jump, blitzing the Red Flash and going up 13-4 by the first media timeout just 4:29 into the game. The Buckeyes hit six of their first eight shots, including three layups from Likekele, who hasn’t been quite the offensive force in Columbus as he was when he played for Oklahoma State. Likekele finished with eight points, five rebounds, and three assists over 25 minutes.
However, while it looked like the Buckeyes may be on their way to an all-time blowout, St. Francis did not let it get there early on. Ohio State pushed the lead to 16 points early on, but the Red Flash went on a 9-3 run from the 11:42 mark to 8:41, getting back within 10 points, 30-20. The Ohio State offense was doing its job, but the Buckeyes’ defense was letting them down on the other end against one of the worst teams in the country.
What looked like a potential blowout didn’t play out that way at all in the first half, with Ohio State taking a 44-36 lead into the break. The Buckeyes dominated the first 10 minutes or so, but St. Francis was the better team for the rest of the opening stanza. Thornton led eight Ohio State scorers with 10 points in the first half and dished out two assists with no turnovers. Cohen and Land each had 12 points in the first half for the Red Flash.
The Buckeyes extended their lead to 19 points by the under-12 media timeout of the second half, 66-47. It’s safe to assume that Holtmann had some choice words with his men in the locker room at halftime about defense, as the Red Flash came out of the halftime break and shot 38.5 (5-13) over the first eight or so minutes — as opposed to the 55% they hit during the first half.
Things really got messy over the next five minutes between the second and third media timeouts, with the Buckeyes blowing the doors off the Red Flash (finally) and making it a 24-point game by the eight-minute mark. With seven-plus minutes remaining, Holtmann was running a lineup of Sensabaugh, Roddy Gayle, Likekele, Okpara, and Kalen Etzler in mop-up minutes.
By the time the final buzzer sounded, the Buckeyes had completed a bounce-back win over St. Francis. If you weren’t around to watch Ohio State’s sixth win of the season — or forgot they played a nooner today — here are some of the key moments that led to a big Buckeye victory:
How do you break a zone?
At the first media timeout about four minutes into the game, St. Francis head coach Rob Krimmel switched his team defense to a 2-3 zone after Ohio State began the game by knocking down six of their first eight shots. As the saying goes, you can either break a zone by shooting over it or getting to the middle of it. The Buckeyes went with the former, as Brice Sensabaugh — who had just checked in for Sueing — and Bruce Thornton immediately knocked down triples for the Buckeyes right over the top of SFU’s zone defense, making it 19-9 Ohio State just over five minutes into the game.
Red Flash makes a run, cuts it to eight
Ohio State opened up a 27-11 lead after eight minutes of play and it looked like the Buckeyes were on their way to running St. Francis off the floor before halftime. But that did not happen, as St. Francis outscored Ohio State 16-8 over the next 6:18, cutting the deficit in half from 16 points to just eight.
Sensabaugh’s tough stretch
There’s been some griping and questioning from some fans early on this season as to why Sensabaugh — the team’s second-leading scorer, is not starting and instead is playing just 18 minutes per game off the bench thus far. Well, a 17-second stretch late in the first half of today’s game shined a light on why Holtmann has yet to plug the talented freshman into the starting lineup.
With Ohio State leading 38-29 and just under five minutes remaining in the first half, Sensabaugh went for an open dunk along the baseline and completely whiffed. The ball slammed on the front of the rim and St. Francis’ Brad McCabe grabbed the rebound. Sensabaugh then fouled McCabe as he turned to run up the court — his first foul.
On the ensuring SFU possession, Sensabaugh found himself guarding the 6-foot-10 Cohen — St. Francis’ leading scorer — below the basket. The junior big man turned Sensabaugh into swiss cheese, mixing him up with two pivots and easily scoring over the top of the freshman.
A tough 17-second stretch all around for Sensabaugh, who still finished with a team-high 15 points on 4-10 shooting and was 4-4 at the free throw line.
Thornton’s hot hand
The freshman point guard established himself as a steady floor general over the first few games of the season, looking like he’d been in college much longer than he actually has been. However, Thornton rarely forced shots and averaged just four shot attempts over the first three games of the season. However, since Maui, Thornton has been more aggressively hunting his own shot and making teams pay for leaving him open.
After knocking down three three-pointers against Texas Tech two games ago, Thornton matched that against the Red Flash today in just 23 minutes on the floor. His three-pointer at the 18:28 mark of the second half was his third of the day, which gave him 13 points and the Buckeyes a 49-38 lead. Thornton entered the game shooting 47.6% from distance. He finished the game with 13 points on 5-10 shooting and 3-5 from 3-point range. He also dished out those two assists and had two rebounds.
Felix wants you to hit the weight room, respectfully
Freshman center Felix Okpara — the main backup to Key — has played more than some thought he would, considering how raw his offensive game is. However, in those 13 minutes per game, Okpara has shown flashes that he can be a real difference-maker and bring some juice to the Buckeyes, especially on the defensive end.
But today Okpara did it on both ends, stealing two passes and also scoring on a possession where he missed the shot, grabbed his own rebound, missed that layup, grabbed his own rebound again, and finally scored through contact. The 6-foot-11, 220-pound freshman’s three-point play gave Ohio State a 69-47 lead with 10:37 remaining in the game.
Okpara would later connect on his first career three-pointer with 3:31 remaining in the game to give Ohio State a 91-55 lead and also gave Okpara his first career double-double. Okpara finished with 12 points, 11 rebounds, two steals, and a block over 16 minutes. The points, rebounds, and steals were all career-highs for the freshman from Lagos, Nigeria.
No. 25 Ohio State (6-2) opens Big Ten play on Thursday, Dec. 8, welcoming the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (5-2) to Columbus for the first time in two seasons. Rutgers recently lost to Miami in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, and will tangle with No. 10 Indiana later this afternoon. The game will tip off at 7 p.m. E.T. and will be broadcast on ESPN2.