Buckeyes Cruise to Season Opening Win

For the first time since March 5th, a total of 262 days, the Ohio State men’s basketball team took the floor, and in an eerily empty Schottenstein Center, without fans due to Covid-19 protocols, the 23rd ranked Buckeyes took an early 22-0 lead and rolled to an impressive 94-66 victory over visiting Illinois State. Justice Sueing led all scorers and five Buckeyes in double figures, with 19 points and 8 rebounds. E.J. Liddell added 16, Duane Washington, Jr and Zed Key added 12 each and C.J. Walker chipped in 10 with 6 dimes. Kyle Young also contributed 8 points and 8 rebounds in a balanced effort. As expected, the Buckeyes started the game with a backcourt of Walker, Washington and Sueing and a front court of Liddell and Young and the chemistry of that group was evident from the outset as the Buckeyes jumped out to a big lead and didn’t look back. The Buckeyes shot 48.4% from the field, including 6 of 18 from deep and hit 26 of 36 free throws, holding the Redbirds to 38.6%.

The Buckeyes got off to a fast start as Duane Washington Jr. fed E.J. Liddell in the paint for a pair to kick off the scoring.  Liddell scored again on a feed from Kyle Young and knocked down the free throw for the old-fashioned 3-point play to give Ohio State a 5-0 lead.  Five straight Buckeye points from Justice Sueing who hit a floater in the paint and followed with a triple from the right wing, forced Illinois State to call timeout with 17:31 to go in the first half and Ohio State up 10-0.  Out of the timeout, Washington drilled a three from the short corner to put Ohio State up 13-0 and that would be the score as the teams headed to the bench for the first media timeout of the year. A pair of free throws from freshman Zed Key and a steal and score by Sueing pushed the Buckeye lead to 17-0.  On the ensuing possession following a Redbird turnover, C.J. Walker found Key in the paint for another score and the Buckeyes led 19-0.  The Buckeyes went up 22-0 after another newcomer, Gene Brown drilled a triple from the short corner before Illinois State finally got on the board with a free throw.  The Redbirds added their first field goal of the game on the next possession and with just over 13 minutes to go in the first half, Ohio State led 22-3. Illinois State added to their run and cut the lead to 22-7 before a Kyle Young score in the paint ended the 7-0 Redbird run. After another Illinois State bucket, Walker penetrated the lane from the top and scored. Ohio State increased the lead to 31-9 following a Sueing put back off a Musa Jallow’s steal and attempt in transition missed at the rim, forcing Illinois State to call timeout with 8:13 remaining in the first half with Ohio State on a 9-0 run. Out of the timeout, an Illinois State three ended the Buckeye run and cut the lead to 31-12 but the Buckeyes answered as Jimmy Sotos found Kyle Young in the paint on the lob for a score. After a pair of Walker free throws, Walker found Young in transition who dunked as he was fouled and he knocked down the freebie to give Ohio State a 38-14 lead. The Buckeyes led 40-18 at the final media timeout of the first half with 2:54 showing on the game clock. Following the timeout, two Liddell free throws increased the Buckeye lead to 42-18 but the Buckeyes would not score again in the half as Illinois State ended the half with a 7-0 run to send the teams to the locker room with Ohio State holding a 42-25 lead. Justice Sueing led all scorers in the first 20 minutes with 12, while Kyle Young added 7 and 5 rebounds and E.J. Liddell also added 7.  The Buckeyes shot 47% from the floor as well as 9 of 11 from the stripe, holding the Redbirds to a 37% clip, and scoring 11 off of 10 Illinois State turnovers.

The Buckeyes opened the second half with the same five who started, but it was the Redbirds who struck first, drilling a triple to extend their run to 10-0 and cutting Ohio State’s lead to 42-28. A Liddell turnaround at the block ended the run and the Buckeyes followed that up with a Walker spinner in the paint.  With the score at 47-30, Sueing put the ball on the deck and got to the rim and scored while being fouled and a technical foul was called in addition and Ohio State made all three to extend the lead to 52-30. A running lay in by Walker in transition extended the lead to 54-30 at the under 16 media timeout. With the score 55-32, Liddell found Sueing cutting through the middle of the paint for the dunk and on the next possession, the same pair hooked up for the same result and Ohio State led 59-32. Justin Ahrens watched his corner triple tickle the twine and the Buckeyes increased their lead to 63-37. A pair of Walker free throws preceded another Ahrens three, this time from the left wing that gave Ohio State a 68-39 advantage. A pair of buckets from Liddell increased the Buckeye lead to 76-44, their largest of the game, as the teams hit the bench for the under 8 media timeout. Washington drilled a triple from the top right to give the Buckeyes a 35 point lead, answering a Redbird three with just under 5 to go.  At the dead ball, Coach Holtmann got walk-on Harrison Hookfin into the ball game and he got on the board quickly, scoring in the lane off a nifty feed from Sotos and the teams went into the final media timeout with the Buckeyes leading the Redbirds 89-56. Out of the timeout, newly added walk-on Jansen Davidson entered the game for the first time, marking all healthy Buckeyes getting minutes on this day and Davidson buried a free throw to get on the board in his first action as a Buckeye.  The Redbirds outscored the Buckeyes 10-5 the rest of the way but Ohio State put this one to bed early, winning their opener for the 100th time in school history.

It was a solid performance by the Buckeyes, who were just anxious to get back on the floor and it showed early as Ohio State came out strong and never looked back.  Coach Holtmann echoed that sentiment and he was able to get a lot of players action and mixed up his lineups early and often.  Coach Holtmann credited the older guys especially in setting the tone early, specifically being disruptive defensively, in getting out to the big lead. There is certainly a lot of potential especially on the offensive end from this group.  They are long and athletic and will cause matchup issues for a lot of their opponents with their perimeter length.  They have several guys who can shoot it from the outside and also have the burst to put it on the floor and get to the rim, and at least on this day, it was a winning formula. Additionally, Ohio State, as is a staple for Chris Holtmann teams, looked connected on both ends and very unselfish in a balanced effort.

The Buckeyes will take the floor again on Sunday afternoon at Noon, hosting UMass-Lowell in the Covelli Center.

Until then, Happy Thanksgiving Buckeye fans!

-Jason Harris

Photo by Land Grant Holy Land

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