Following last Saturday’s win over Iowa that snapped a five-game losing streak, Ohio State wasn’t able to keep the good vibes rolling, falling 69-60 at Illinois on Tuesday night. The Buckeyes had no answer for what the Fighting Illini threw at them, falling behind by as many as 17 points in the second half. Now Ohio State has another tough road test tonight when they take on the Indiana Hoosiers at Assembly Hall in Bloomington.
The performance from Chris Holtmann’s team in Champaign on Tuesday night left a lot to be desired. There was very little energy and urgency from the Buckeyes, who are looking at an uphill battle if they want to earn an NCAA Tournament bid. Ohio State shot just 36.7 percent from the field, and were outrebounded 44-30 by Illinois. Only two Buckeyes reached double figures in scoring in the game. Brice Sensabaugh finished with a team-high 14 points, while Justice Sueing added 13 points in 21 minutes off the bench.
With his scoring output on Tuesday night, Sueing is now just 10 points away from 1,500 career points. 604 of his 1,490 career points have come during his time at Ohio State. Smart money is on Sueing reaching the career milestone tonight. Not only is Sueing averaging 13 points per game this year, he has failed to reach double figures in scoring in just six of the 20 games he has planned in this year.
Meanwhile, Sensabaugh leads Ohio State in scoring, averaging 17.4 points per game. Sensabaugh also leads Big Ten freshmen in scoring this year. Earlier this week, Sensabaugh was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week, marking the fourth time this year he has earned the honor. No matter how the season plays out for the Buckeyes, Sensabaugh is making a strong case to be named the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year.
Tonight Ohio State will travel to Bloomington for their only meeting of the regular season with Indiana. Last year the schools split their meetings, with the Hoosiers winning 67-51 at Assembly Hall, and the Buckeyes earning a victory in the return leg in Columbus, winning 80-69 in overtime. Indiana leads the all-time series 109-88, but Ohio State has won six of the last eight meetings with the Hoosiers.
After a three-game losing streak, Mike Woodson’s team has righted the ship with a four-game winning streak. The most recent of those victories came on Wednesday night, when the Hoosiers escaped Minneapolis with a 61-57 win over Minnesota. Not only did Indiana survive the upset attempt from the Golden Gophers, they did so without Woodson on the bench, as the head coach of the Hoosiers missed the game while recovering from COVID-19.
Powering Indiana to victory on Wednesday was Trayce Jackson-Davis, the Big Ten’s reigning Player of the Week. The junior is stating his case to be in the conversation for National Player of the Year with his play of late. During Indiana’s four-game winning streak, Jackson-Davis is averaging 27.3 points per game, 14.3 rebounds per game, and 4.8 blocks per game.
By scoring 25 points, pulling down 21 rebounds, and swatting six shots on Wednesday, Jackson-Davis became the first player to score at least 25 points, record 20 rebounds, and block at least five shots in a game since Hasheem Thabeet did so for UConn in 2009. Jackson-Davis’ layup with 43 seconds to go ended up being the game-winning bucket, giving the Hoosiers a 59-57 lead.
Indiana has needed Jackson-Davis to step up becasue they have had to deal with a couple injuries over the last month. Pitt transfer Xavier Johnson hasn’t played since mid-December, and is out indefinitely with a foot injury. Race Thompson suffered a knee injury earlier this month that caused him to miss four games. The senior has appeared in the last two games, but Wednesday night’s game was the first time since before Christmas that he was on the court for more than 10 minutes in a game. Thompson is averaging 7.6 points per game and 5.6 rebounds per game this year.
If teams are able to put clamps on Jackson-Davis, Indiana is a very beatable team because they don’t have consistent production behind him. Even though Jalen Hood-Schifino is the team’s second-leading scorer with 12.1 points per game, the guard is still only a freshman. Hood-Schfinio has had a hard time getting any offense going over the last two games. Prior to scoring just six points on 2-11 shooting from the field against Minnesota, he only scored two points on 1-6 shooting in a win over Michigan State.
A familiar name in this game is Miller Kopp, who transferred to Indiana prior to last season after spending the first three years of his college career at Northwestern. With 11 points in Wednesday night’s win over Minnesota, Kopp eclipsed 1,200 points in his college career. The scoring output from Kopp against the Golden Gophers was the first time in over a month that he has scored more than 10 points in a game. Before transferring to Indiana, Kopp had three games against Ohio State where he scored at least 16 points against the Buckeyes.
A few other players that play important roles for the Hoosiers are Tamar Bates, Trey Galloway, and Malik Reneau. Lately it has been either all or nothing from Bates, with the sophomore guard posting goose eggs in the scoring column in three of the last five games, but scoring 11 points against Penn State, and 17 points against Michigan State in those other two games. Bates is a threat from behind the arc, as he has three games where he has hit at least our three-pointers this year.
While Galloway hasn’t been shutout from scoring in as many games, the Hoosiers are going to need more consistency from the guard if they want to make a run in the NCAA Tournament. To round out the group, Reneau gave Indiana a lift off the bench on Wednesday, scoring 10 points in 12 minutes of action.
It is very difficult to have any confidence in Ohio State right now, especially on the road in a tough environment like Assembly Hall. If the Buckeyes can’t respond with even the slightest bit of effort on Tuesday at Illinois after snapping a five-game losing streak, there isn’t a lot of hope for Ohio State to show much energy tonight against Indiana and one of college basketball’s top talents.
If Ohio State wants to have any shot at winning in Bloomington tonight, they need to slow down Jackson-Davis. Even though Jackson-Davis is on a heater right now, the Buckeyes do have some experience at taking on some of the top bigs in the country and not letting them have a ton of success. Earlier this month Ohio State took Purdue down to the wire, holding Zach Edey to 16 points and 11 rebounds, which is actually pretty tame compared to what Edey has been able to do to some other Big Ten teams.
Ohio State feels like the more complete team than Indiana, the issue is for whatever reason the parts aren’t fitting together for the Buckeyes. Brice Sensabaugh and Justice Sueing have done their part, but there needs to be a few more of their teammates that step up on both ends of the floor. Injuries have kept Zed Key from reaching the levels we saw from him earlier in the season, while Sean McNeil and Issac Likekele have been inconsistent.
The Buckeyes desperately need to win this game, especially with three of their next four games at home, if they want to give themselves any shot of making the NCAA Tournament with an at-large bid. Unfortunately, asking Ohio State to slow a streaking Jackson-Davis and beat Indiana on their own floor is just a little too tall of a task for Chris Holtmann’s team.
ESPN BPI: Indiana 63.4%
Time: 8:00 p.m. ET