Alright, enough talk. Enough predicting, hypothesizing, and pandering. The Buckeyes hit the hardwood this evening, which means college basketball season is officially upon us.
Well, kind of.
For the first time in 35 years, Ohio State took on the Dayton Fliers at UD Arena in a 40-minute and fully officiated basketball game in front of a sold-out crowd in Dayton. However, tonight’s long-awaited battle between the Buckeyes and their foes from 75 miles down the road wasn’t the season opener, and did not count towards either team’s record. Tonight’s exhibition was a part of a larger, four-day event at UD surrounding mental health, especially the stigma it carries among young people.
Both teams wore “Take Hope to the Hoop” warm-ups, and all proceeds of the event were donated to the Jay Light Foundation, a fund that honors Dayton Coach Anthony Grant’s daughter Jayda, who passed away last year at age 20 after a prolonged battle with mental illness. It also supports other community organizations and initiatives that support adolescent and youth mental health in the Dayton area.
Although this game technically didn’t count, someone forgot to tell the Flyer fans that. The UD student section was full an hour ahead of time, and the event was sold out a week in advance. In the grand scheme of things, tonight’s game at UD Arena was one of the more intimidating environments the Buckeyes will see this year — official contest or otherwise.
The Buckeyes rolled with a starting five of Bruce Thornton, Roddy Gayle Jr., Jamison Battle, Evan Mahaffey, and Felix Okpara in their first live action of the year. Dayton went with Malachi Smith, Nate Santos, Kobe Elvis, Daron Holmes, and Enoch Cheeks.
The Flyers burst out of the gate, knocking down a couple quick triples to take a 6-0 lead two minutes into the game. But Ohio State was patient, and instead tried to force the ball below the basket. That resulted in five easy points for Okpara and a baseline jumper for Battle, as the Buckeyes went into the first media timeout down 11-9.
Over the next three minutes Thornton and Cheeks became two men possessed, with the former scoring eight points (two three-pointers) over a span of 2:13 to help Ohio State take the lead. At the same time, Cheeks — a transfer from Robert Morris — knocked down two consecutive threes to keep Dayton right on pace with the Buckeyes. OSU led 20-19 after eight minutes of play, while subbing in and out most of their roster, including freshmen.
Ohio State clung to a 42-39 lead at the halftime buzzer after shooting 60% overall and 63% from beyond the arc. On the other side, Dayton shot 46% overall and 39% from three-point land. The difference maker? Definitely the seven offensive rebounds Dayton grabbed over the first 20 minutes, which led to 13 second-chance points.
The Buckeyes fell apart a little bit in the beginning of the second half, turning it over on six possessions out of seven at one point and squandering a nine-point lead. But just when the crowd hit their highest decibel level of the night, Gayle knocked down a three from the left wing to put Ohio State back up, 55-52. That was our score at the under-12 timeout with 11:56 remaining in the game.
Thanks to more heroics from Thornton, the Buckeyes pushed their lead to seven points with 7:58 remaining in the game, 65-58. Ohio State’s sophomore point guard scored 10 of the Buckeyes’ first 18 points coming out halftime break, and just generally looked in control of the pace of the game. When Bruce wanted to go fast, Ohio State went fast. If he wanted to be more methodical, that’s what happened. Thornton scored through 33 minutes of game play (28 of which he was on the floor for), he scored 21 points on just nine shot attempts.
The Buckeyes’ defense will need to improve if they plan on making some noise at the top of the Big Ten this season, but their shot selection was nearly impeccable at UD Arena as they topped the Flyers in front of their home fans, 78-70. They were led by Thornton, who had 21 points on 7-9 shooting. He knocked down three of his four three-point attempts, and hit four out of five free throws. Battle and Gayle each scored in double digits as well, with 15 and 12, respectively.
As a team, the Buckeyes shot 55% overall, and 44.4% from beyond the arc. They gave up a whopping 14 offensive rebound and turned the ball over way too much (15 times), but even with that, they still beat a Dayton team that’s been picked to win the A-10 by pretty much everyone that knows ball.
If you weren’t able to make it out to Dayton for tonight’s game or catch it on TV, here are a few of the key takeaways from the first live action for Team 125.
Buckeyes struggled to control the glass
As was the case last season, Ohio State really struggled to come down with defensive rebounds at times against the Flyers. Dayton grabbed six offensive rebounds in the first half alone, and the problem was wisdespread. Mahaffey, Battle, and Zed Key were all beat to rebounds that were right below the basket in the first half, leading to 11 second-chance points for Dayton. Even though it was just an exhibiton, it made Chris Holtmann slap ever-loving crap out of the scoring table time and time again.
Even though the Buckeyes struggled at times, it was evident that defensive rebounding was a big point of focus this evening. When someone did grab a tough defensive rebounds, the entire bench was standing to clap and shout at whoever did it. After letting Dayton grab 11 of them in the first half, they only had three in the second half.
Ohio State will run a three-guard lineup
We’ve speculated a little bit if Chris Holtmann would start three guards, and it looks like the answer is no. However, Dale Bonner was the first Ohio State sub about six minutes into the game, and he remained in with Gayle and Thornton, playing 10 of the final 14 minutes. Ohio State likes his ability to push tempo as well as the experience he has with some other technical things, like inbounding the ball against various presses and moving the ball up the court quickly against a full court press.
If anyone is curious, the other two guys in there with the three guards (initially) were Key and Mahaffey. For the game, Thornton played 28 minutes, Bonner played 26, and Gayle 25.
Thornton, Battle look game-ready
Out of everyone on the floor, Thornton and Battle stood out to me as the two guys who look the most prepared if the regular season started tomorrow. The two combined to shoot 6-8 in the first half for 18 points, with each guy knocking down a pair of three-pointers. Battle struggled at times on the defensive glass — and that will be a concern if it doesn’t improve eventually — but the most important thing for Battle is his offensive output. What version of Battle Ohio State gets this season will determine how many games they’ll play next March. He finished with 15 points on 6-7 shooting, and 3-4 from downtown. In his 22 minutes, Battle grabbed five rebounds and recorded two assists to boot.
Freshman to freshman connection
Ohio State’s final basket of the first half was a bucket executed solely by freshmen. With 28 seconds remaining in the half, Dayton freshman forward Petras Padegimas had the ball near half court, looking for somewhere to go with it. Devin Royal swung his hand under the ball and popped it out of his hand into the air, and then grabbed the ball and took it upcourt. Scotty Middleton saw the play unfold from the opposite side of the floor and shadowed Royal up the floor, allowing one freshman to dish to the other, leading to an easy fast break bucket to put Ohio State up, 42-37.
Middleton played 18 minutes tonight, scoring five points on 2-7 shooting. Royal played 19 minutes and had six points on 2-3 shooting, while also grabbing three rebounds, dishing out two assists, and recording one steal.
Tons of turnovers to start the second half
The Buckeyes had five turnovers in the entire first half, but crumbled against Dayton’s pressure to start the second half, turning it over eight times over the first 7:54 of the second half. What was once a nine-point lead melted down to a 52-52 tie, until Gayle knocked down a three-pointer from the left wing to put the Buckeyes back up three points with 12:02 left in the game. Chris Holtmann immediately called a timeout, trying to bottle that progress and talk to the team with the crowd no longer roaring.
Ohio State turned the ball over just three times over the final 12 minutes after Holtmann’s timeout.
Let’s not settle
There are times to send dozens of threes flying, and there are times to be a bit more methodical with your shot selection. While 27 of Dayton’s first 49 shots (55%) tonight came from beyod the arc, the Buckeyes took just 14 out of their first 38 shots (37%) came from beyond the arc. Ohio State knocked down a higher percentage as well, meaning they were being more efficient with the shots they took, as well as being more particular about when they let it rip from downtown.