Before the Ohio State men’s basketball team can enjoy Christmas they have one game left before the holiday. Fresh off a 67-60 win over UCLA in Atlanta on Saturday in the CBS Sports Classic, the Buckeyes (9-2, 1-1) host the New Orleans Privateers tonight at Value City Arena. This will be the second-to-last non-conference game of the regular season for Ohio State, as their final one will come next Saturday when they travel up to Cleveland to take on West Virginia. Tonight’s game marks the second time Ohio State and New Orleans have met on the basketball court, with the Buckeyes winning 74-66 in the Sugar Bowl Tournament during the 1989-90 season.
Following their loss to Penn State last Saturday, the Buckeyes had a week to try and put their late-game failures against the Nittany Lions behind them. After heading to the halftime break trailing the Bruins 23-22, Ohio State and UCLA went back-and-forth for the first 12 minutes of the second half before the Buckeyes took the lead for good when Bruce Thornton hit a jumper with just under eight minutes to go to give Ohio State a 48-47 lead. Chris Holtmann’s team would put a little distance on UCLA the rest of the way, earning a hard-fought 67-60 victory.
Leading the way for the Buckeyes against UCLA was Roddy Gayle Jr., who finished the game with 19 points and six rebounds. Gayle currently sits second on the team, averaging 14.7 points per game. Along with his scoring, Gayle has also been solid in other areas on the court, pulling down 5.1 rebounds per contest and dishing out 3.5 assists per game. It has become clear that the sophomore from Niagara Falls has embraced more responsibility this year as his time on the court has nearly doubled. Gayle has already matched his scoring total from last season of 162 points
Aside from Gayle, Ohio State had three other players reach double figures in scoring against UCLA. Jamison Battle finished with 14 points, Bruce Thornton added 13 points, and Felix Okpara scored 10 points, hitting double figures in scoring for the second time this season. Okpara also blocked two shots in the victory, marking the fifth time this year he has swatted at least two shots in a game. The contributions from Gayle and company were able to offset some dreadful shooting from behind the arc from the Buckeyes, who hit just one of their 15 three-point attempts. The lone triple did extend Ohio State’s streak to 316 consecutive games with at least one three-pointer.
Next up for the Buckeyes are the New Orleans Privateers, who enter tonight’s contest with a 5-6 record. The last time New Orleans took the court was a week ago when they beat up on Division-III foe Birmingham-Southern 91-51. The talent gap was quite obvious, as the Privateers never trailed in the game and took a 49-24 lead into halftime. Jordan Johnson led the team with 16 points, Dorian Booker added 12 points off the bench in 19 minutes, and Tyson Jackson finished with 11 points and five rebounds.
The bulk of the damage done on offense for New Orleans this year has been done by Jordan Johnson, who is leading the team with 23.1 points per game. The only other Privateer to average double figures in scoring through 11 games is Khaleb Wilson-Rouse, who enters tonight’s game averaging 10.9 points per game. Along with those two, Jamond Vincent not only is responsible for 8.0 points per game, but he also is pulling down 6.4 rebounds per contest.
Roaming the sideline for New Orleans is head coach Mark Slessinger. This marks the 13th year in charge at the school for Slessinger. Following last week’s victory over Birmingham-Southern, Slessinger is 164-203 as New Orleans head coach. During his time as head coach, New Orleans has made the NCAA Tournament once, losing to Mount St. Mary’s 67-66 in a First Four game in the 2017 NCAA Tournament. The Privateers will be looking to rebound from last year’s disappointing season that saw them post a 10-19 record.
Aside from possibly having a bit of a hangover from Saturday’s win over UCLA in Atlanta, Ohio State shouldn’t have too much of a problem with New Orleans tonight in Columbus. The Buckeyes are not only a deeper team than the Privateers, they have a definite size advantage with Felix Okpara and Zed Key. What Chris Holtmann is hoping for is a complete effort out of his team to add to their confidence before they get some time off ahead of next Saturday’s game against West Virginia in Cleveland.
New Orleans has struggled when playing against power conference Division-I teams so far this year, losing by 33 points to Minnesota and 28 points to Oklahoma State. It’s hard to see tonight’s game going much differently than those two contests earlier in the year. Aside from Johnson, the Privateers struggle to score, and those issues aren’t going to go away against an Ohio State team that can get after it on the defensive end. The Buckeyes should hold a double-digit lead at halftime and extend their advantage over the final 20 minutes of the game.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 96.5%
Time: 6 p.m. ET