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Ohio State pops the Privateers 78-36 without Holtmann, Okpara

For the second consecutive game, the Buckeyes struggled offensively for a bit but were able to win the game with suffocating defense.

NCAA Basketball: New Orleans at Ohio State Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The Ohio State men’s basketball team (10-2, 1-1) is one day away from a much-needed four day Christmas break. But first, they had to dance with the New Orleans Privateers (5-7) out of the Southland Conference on Thursday night.

Four of New Orleans’ five wins this season have been over non-Division-I opponents, and they were recently blown out by Minnesota by 33 points on the road. The Privateers briefly began a transition to Division-II in 2011, but changed course and stayed D-I. They were the No. 283 team in the country entering this game, according to KenPom — the worst remaining team on Ohio State’s schedule.

The Buckeyes had to play tonight’s game without starting center Felix Okpara and head coach Chris Holtmann, who were both dealing with the flu, according to an official statement from the team. Jake Diebler, who also filled in for Holtmann for one game in January 2022 when the head coach fell ill with COVID-19, filled in as acting head coach once again Thursday evening.

Diebler went with a starting five of Bruce Thornton, Roddy Gayle, Jamison Battle, Evan Mahaffey, and Zed Key in place of Okpara. New Orleans, led by Mark Slessinger in his 12th year, rolled out a starting five of Jordan Johnson, Jamond Vincent, Khaleb Wilson-Rouse, D’Ante Bell, and Tyson Jackson.

Whether it was not having Holtmann on the bench or something else entirely, Ohio State did not look comfortable early on against one of the least talented teams they’ll see all year. The Buckeyes hit just one of their first six shots, four of their first 12, and held a 11-7 lead at the under-eight media timeout. The Privateers weren’t doing much better, although that’s expected of them in this matchup.

Things didn’t get much better for Ohio State, which looked on track to easily pass its season average of 11 turnovers per game halfway through the first half. With Okpara out and Key saddled with foul trouble, things just didn’t look quite right. The issues were purely offensive, however, as New Orleans struggled mightily scoring the basketball in this one — as expected. With 7:21 left in the first half, Ohio State led 14-11.

After giving up the lead very briefly, Ohio State ended the half on a 17-2 run to take a 31-17 lead into the locker room. In stunning fashion, the Buckeyes shot just 36.4% overall and scored 31 points against a team that gave up a whopping 97 points to Minnesota just three weeks ago. OSU’s best performer in the first half was Battle, who scored eight points and grabbed seven rebounds. Mahaffey had four points, five rebounds, two assists, two steals, and a block in the first half. Wilson-Rouse had five first-half points for the Privateers.

Much like the game against UCLA last weekend, Ohio State was much better in the second half on Thursday, stretching its 14-point halftime lead to 27 by the under-eight media timeout. After sitting for a good chunk of the first half with two fouls, Zed Key was a man possessed in the second half, scoring in double dgits and leading the Buckeyes in scoring over the final 20 minutes. Devin Royal was a big-time difference maker on the glass, too — the freshman forward played 15 minutes and yanked down seven rebounds — three of them offensive.

By the time the final horn blew, Ohio State had wrapped up a 78-36 win over their Southland Conference foe. Jamison Battle’s 17 points led all scorers and was his third-highest point total of the season thus far. Key (16), Thornton (11), and Bonner (10) all scored in double digits as well. Jordan Johnson had eight points for New Orleans.

If you don’t have BTN+ and missed Ohio State’s rout of New Orleans on Thursday night, here are a few key moments from a game that was never really in doubt:

Stop the count! New Orleans scores first

Gayle attempted a dribble-drive move on Ohio State’s first possession of the game, but Bell used his long arm’s to tip the pass and then take it, starting a fast break for the Privateers. The ball ultimately ended up in Wilson-Rouse’s hands, who dropped in an elbow jumper 51 seconds into the game to put New Orleans up 2-0 to start the game.

Key taken away from the bench as Ohio State starts slow

Before the first media timeout of the game, Key — who was starting in place of Felix Okpara, who was dealing with an illness — was pushed to the ground away from the ball during an Ohio State possession. He got back up and ran back to the other end, but one possession later was escorted to an area behind the bleachers with a trainer.

It turns out Zed hit the back of his head on the fall, and was likely being examined for a concussion. Key went back to the bench after the media timeout, headband on, ready to play.

Meanwhile, the Buckeyes led 4-2 at the first media timeout 4:14 into the game, having hit just one of its first six shots.

Battle knocks rings the long distance bell x 2

After New Orleans briefly took the lead back, 15-14, Ohio State’s two key transfers — Dale Bonner and Battle — took it right back. Bonner snagged an offensive rebound off of a Battle miss and scored to make it 16-15, and was fouled going to the basket on the very next possession, hitting one of two free throws.

On the very next possession, Battle missed a three but Gayle got the rebound kicked it back out to Battle, and he knocked down his second try. Battle connected on his second three-pointer of the game on the very next possession, putting Ohio State up 23-15 with 3:51 to go in the first half.

Thornton knocks down a pair, pushes lead to 20

Leading 41-23 with 14:10 remaining in the game, Thornton attempted a reverse layup on the baseline but was fouled by Vincent, sending him to the line. The sophomore guard knocked down both at the line, pushing Ohio State’s lead to a game-high (at the time) 20 points, 43-23.

Parks, Royal get some valuable time on the floor

Scotty Middleton has seen the most action of the freshmen this year, but both Austin Parks and Devin Royal got some valuable minutes in tonight’s game.

Royal played the second-most minutes that he’s played all season, scoring four points and grabbing seven rebounds over 15 minutes on Thursday — the second-most minutes he’s played this year. He leapt up and secured a big offensive rebound in the second half that eventually led to a Zed Key and-one dunk.

Parks made his sixth appearance of the season on Thursday, checking in at the 13:22 mark with Ohio State up, 44-23. He played seven minutes, scored one point (split free throws) and grabbed one rebound.

Thornton injures lower leg/ankle, does not return to game

With 13:03 left in the game and Ohio State up 44-23 still, Thornton drove to the basket and missed a layup, but landed funny below the basket. Ohio State was able to corral the offensive rebound and get the ball out to Parks, who had the ball stolen away by New Orleans’ Jah Short.

After the play, Thornton had to be escorted back to the locker room by the training staff. Thornton was able to walk back on his own, and returned to the bench a few minutes later. He did not re-enter the game.

Up Next

Ohio State (10-2, 1-1) will take four day off of practice to go home and see their families for the holidays, before returning on Tuesday, December 26th to resume practice. Then they’ll have four days to prepare for West Virginia, who they will face in Cleveland as part of the Legends of Basketball Showcase on December 30.

The Mountaineers (4-7) are struggling in the first year of the post-Bob Huggins era, having just lost back-to-back games against UMass and Radford. West Virginia is currently the No. 185 team in the nation, according to KenPom.

Ohio State’s game against West Virginia will tip off at 7:00 p.m. on FOX.