This is a contest between two teams desperate for a win, as the Buckeyes are coming off a close loss at Iowa, and Indiana is coming off an 85-71 loss at home to Penn State. Ohio State has lost seven of its last eight games, and Indiana has lost four of its last five.
This is the season’s second matchup between the two teams, as Indiana won the first matchup 71-65 at Assembly Hall. In the first game, which was exactly a month ago on Jan. 6, the Hoosiers were led by a career game from Malik Reneau, who recorded 23 points on 10-for-16 shooting and seven rebounds.
Xavier Johnson had 18 points, three assists, and three rebounds in that game, but has missed time recently with an injury and is questionable to play in this contest. C.J. Gunn added 10 points in 24 minutes off the bench.
Jamison Battle led the Buckeyes with 17 points on 5-for-10 shooting from the three-point line and added nine rebounds. Zed Key tallied 11 points and five rebounds off the bench.
The guard duo of Brice Thornton and Roddy Gayle struggled immensely the last time these two teams met, combining to shoot 7-for-34 from the field, 0-for-12 from three-point range, and totaling 18 points. Felix Okpara had his best defensive game of his career, recording 15 rebounds and five blocks while holding Kel’el Ware to eight points and six rebounds on 4-for-10 shooting in 31 minutes.
The Buckeyes dominated the Hoosiers on the glass, winning the rebounding battle 49-27, but lost the turnover battle 14-4 and only shot 7-for-27 from three-point range. Ohio State led 46-37 early in the second half, but struggled late in the second half and allowed the Hoosiers to take a double-digit lead.
This was also the game that started the Buckeyes’ slide. Ohio State entered the night 12-2 overall, and has since lost seven of its last eight games, with the sole win coming at home against Penn State.
Indiana is led by the aforementioned Reneau, who averages 16.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. He is shooting 58.0 percent from the field and 39.4 percent from three-point range. Kel’el Ware is right behind him with 15.3 points and 9.5 rebounds per game, while also adding 1.6 blocks per contest. Mackenzie Mgbako and Trey Galloway are averaging 11.0 and 10.5 points per game, respectively.
Starting point guard Xavier Johnson is questionable to play in this one after missing the Hoosiers’ last game with an elbow injury he sustained late in their game against Iowa. Johnson is averaging 8.3 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game in just under 25 minutes per game.
The Buckeyes are led into this one by sophomore point guard Bruce Thornton, who is scoring 15.6 points per game to lead the team while adding 3.1 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game. Thornton has been struggling with shooting recently, however, as his averages have fallen to 41.2 percent from the field and 32.5 percent from three-point range.
Jamison Battle is averaging 14.2 points and 5.3 rebounds per game while shooting a Big Ten-best 45.0 percent from three-point range. Roddy Gayle is averaging 14.0 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists per contest.
The biggest issue for Ohio State has been its defense. The Buckeyes have fallen to No. 120 in KenPom in defensive efficiency and are No. 40 in offensive efficiency. Indiana is more consistent — but consistently bad — ranking No. 101 in offense and No. 100 in defense.
The good part about this game is it is in Columbus. Ohio State is 9-3 at home this season, with losses to Texas A&M, Illinois and Wisconsin, while they are 0-6 on the road.
Ohio State’s season is on life support, and even that might be generous. If they want any chance of salvaging the season, they have to win both games this week at home against Indiana and Maryland, with the Terrapins coming to town on Saturday.
Two big factors in this game will be Zed Key and Felix Okpara. Both big men for the Buckeyes played well in the first matchup against the Hoosiers, but Key’s minutes have drastically gone down since then, and Okpara has been inconsistent. If those two can play well and slow down Ware, Mgbako and Reneau, it will take some pressure off of the guards and Battle.
The Buckeyes also need more from the bench. Scotty Middleton, Dale Bonner, Zed Key, Devin Royal and even Bowen Hardman have played minutes off the bench the last month in an attempt to get something going when the Buckeyes are struggling on offense. However, the bench has been unable to find any consistency, and it puts a lot of pressure on Thornton, Gayle and Battle to do the bulk of the scoring.
Basically, Ohio State needs more production from guys not named Bruce Thornton, Roddy Gayle, and Jamison Battle to get out of this slump.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 76.9%
Time: 7 p.m. ET