Welcome to rivalry week! To kick off the best and most venomous week of the year, the Ohio State men’s basketball team welcomed the Western Michigan Broncos to the Schottenstein Center Sunday afternoon for the fourth-ever matchup between the two programs. Even though Buckeyes fans can’t take a swing at the Wolverines until Saturday, the second-best thing is facing off with one of the several directional Michigan schools, right?
The Broncos (0-4) came into this game having lost games to North Dakota State, Georgia State, and Northwestern by a combined 15 points — an average deficit of just five points per loss. They entered Sunday’s contest sitting at No. 303 in KenPom overall and No. 313 in defensive efficiency, allowing 108.6 points per 100 possessions.
Second-year head coach Dwayne Stephens went with a starting five of Brandon Muntu, Jefferson De La Cruz Monegro, Seth Hubbard, Titus Wright, and Owen Lobsinger. Chris Holtmann’s Buckeyes (3-1) went with the same starting lineup they’ve used the first three games — Bruce Thornton, Roddy Gayle, Jamison Battle, Evan Mahaffey, and Felix Okpara.
Ohio State opened the scoring with a couple of three-pointers, courtesy of Thornton and Battle, to take an 11-6 lead into the first media timeout. While Okpara started this game, Zed Key checked in after three minutes and immediately had a big defensive stop against WMU’s Anthony Crump, who tried to back him down in the paint, then moved him out to the perimeter, and then tried to come back below the basket before Zed swatted it away wth five seconds remaining on the shot clock.
The Buckeyes really broke things open with a 14-0 run halfway through the first half, taking a seven-point lead and turning it into a 21-point lead not even three minutes later. It was a balanced scoring attack and a balanced defensive effort, with five different players scoring at least five points in the first half and five different players registering at least one steal through the first 12 minutes of play.
When the halftime buzzer sounded, Ohio State had their largest halftime lead of the season, 41-21, over Wester Michigan. Gayle had nine points on 4-of-5 shooting over 16 minutes as well as five rebounds, but also turned the ball over twice. Thornton, Battle, Key, and Dale Bonner each had at least six points in the first half. Collectively, Ohio State shot 51.7% in the first half, and was 8-of-15 from three (53.3%). De La Cruz Monegro had five points in the first half for WMU, which shot 30% in the first half.
Ohio State extended its already huge lead to 27 points over the first few minutes of the second half, with a 55-28 lead at the first media timeout. Gayle and Thornton continued to seek inside looks rather than settling for threes, which in turn opened up the perimeter for Battle.
The Buckeyes clung to a measley 25-point lead at the under-eight timeout, 68-43. A lot of basketball happened during the under-eight and the final buzzer, but not a ton of it was consequential with Ohio State ultimately running away with a 73-56 win over Western Michigan to kick off rivalry week. Gayle and Battle each had 13 points for the Buckeyes, while Thornton, Dale Bonner, and Zed Key each scored in double digits as well. Hubbard led Western Michigan with 24 points on 10-of-18 shooting, with 22 of those 24 coming in the second half.
Collectively, Ohio State shot the ball at a 48.6% clip overall, and 40% from three-point range. Western Michigan shot 37.1% overall and was 26.9% from three-point range.
If you weren’t around for Ohio State’s final tune-up before heading to Florida this weekend, here’s a few key moments, plays, and statistics that led to win No. 3 on the season for the Buckeyes:
Welcome to the Zed Key show
Felix Okpara has been starting at center this season, but Key had played signficantly more minutes than his fellow center through three games because he’s brought a lot more on the offensive end than Okpara.
Today, Okpara started but subbed out after three minutes. Key had an immediate impact upon entering the game, blocking two shots as well as adding a steal-and-score where he swiped the ball away and then ran the floor himself for a dunk. He threw in a three from straightaway to give himself five points, two blocks, two rebounds, and a steal just in his first five minutes on the floor.
Key would go on to finish with 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting over 16 minutes, while also recording two rebounds, steals, and blocks.
Ohio State’s 14-0 run helps Buckeyes break away
After Max Burton’s three-pointer made it 16-9 Buckeyes, Ohio State proceeded to go on a 14-0 run to basically put the game out of reach before even getting to halftime. Four different Buckeyes scored during the run (Dale Bonner, Zed Key, Scotty Middleton, and Battle), but it was fueled by the defense of the bigs — Key and Okpara. Key had multiple steals and blocks in the first half alone. Okpara — although he played more sparingly — still had an impact, blocking two shots and also was credited with a steal in the first half.
Thornton’s three-pointer with 9:21 left in the first half made it 30-9 Ohio State, but the Broncos would go on to score a minute later to eventually break their five-plus minute scoreless streak.
Ugly first half final possession for Ohio State
Leading 41-18 with under a minute remaining, it looked like WMU and Ohio State would each get one possession before the halftime buzzer. After Bonner missed a three with 40 seconds remaining, Western Michigan brought the ball down and Anthony Crump knocked down a three to make it 41-21.
However, Scotty Middleton was called for a foul below the basket on the shot, so WMU got the bucket and retained possession, meaning there was an opportunity for a six-point possession, potentially. However, Ja’Vaughn Hannah missed a three, and that was how the half ended.
Take care of the rock
Ohio State’s 11.3 turnovers per game was the fifth-fewest in the Big Ten entering this game, although Holtmann would certainly like to see that number drop a bit more if possible. The Buckeyes were much more intentional with the basketball than its opponent on Sunday afternoon, committing just eight turnovers over 40 minutes in comparison to WMU’s 11.
Felix and Zed, co-existing on the floor
The idea of Key playing power forward and Okpara playing center in the same lineup, at the same time was a topic that’s come up each of the past two summers, but Ohio State had opted not to experiment with it in an actual game until Sunday afternoon.
With 13:54 left in the game and Ohio State up 59-28, Key subbed in for Battle, with Okpara still on the floor. Key played the four and played a lot more on the perimeter, while Okpara remained in the post.
The two played together for 2:15, until Okpara was subbed back out for Devin Royal. During the time they were on the floor together, Ohio State was outscored 7-6. Not a sterling review of the dual big man lineup, but the coaching staff was probably glad to get some film on that lineup against actual, live competition that they can review for the future.
Key finished with 11 points, while Okpara finished with six points, 11 rebounds, and four blocks over 24 minutes.
Ohio State (3-1) has the next four days off before flying to Niceville, Florida for the Emerald Coast Classic. In game one, they’ll see the No. 22 Alabama Crimson Tide (4-0) who have scored at least 98 points in every game this season so far. They’re the No. 5 team in the nation according to KenPom, with the second-best offense in the country.
The Buckeyes’ game against Alabama will tip off at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, and will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network.