Ohio State Falls to 3-1, Dropping a Tough One at Xavier

Ohio State went on the road for the first time of the season and it wasn’t kind, as the Buckeyes dropped their first game of the season and never led, falling to Xavier 71-65 in Cincinnati. The Buckeyes trailed by as many as 11 and got as close as two in the closing moments, but were unable to finish the challenge, coming up short and falling to 3-1 on the young season. E.J. Liddell led Ohio State with 17 points, 7 rebounds and a career high 8 blocked shots. Meechie Johnson added 14 and Kyle Young scored 12. The Musketeer defense caused Ohio State to take and miss some tough shots on this night as the Buckeyes shot just under 38% for the game and turned the Buckeyes over 12 times in front of a raucous crowd in the Cintas Center. Paul Scruggs and Jack Nunge led Xavier with 14 each. 

The Buckeyes got off to a cold shooting start, missing 9 of their first 10 shot attempts, as Xavier jumped out to an early 6-2 lead with Ohio State’s only bucket in the first four minutes coming from an E.J. Liddell offensive rebound and put back. The Musketeers went up 8-2 before a Liddell 15 footer dropped to cut the deficit to 4. Xavier went up 10-4 before a long Meechie Johnson three went down from the left point. The Buckeyes cut the lead to one when Johnson found Key in the paint for a dunk. Back came Xavier, scoring on three consecutive trips to lead 17-11 at the under 12 media timeout as the Buckeyes had turned the ball over on three straight possessions. The Buckeyes cut the deficit to four when Malaki Branham put the ball on the deck and with the dribble drive got to the rim for a lay in.  Xavier answered, hitting a triple to go up 7, but an offensive rebound by Gene Brown and kick to Johnson beyond the arc and Meechie drained the three to cut the lead back to 4. Xavier hit a runner from the right wing to bump the lead back to six and at the under 8 media timeout, the Musketeers continued to lead the Buckeyes, 22-16. The Musketeers increased the lead to 8 before a Branham triple in transition dropped from the right wing. Following an Ohio State turnover, Xavier scored in transition, but Ohio State cut the lead back to six when Branham scored at the rim. Xavier went back up 8 when a triple dropped and at the final media timeout of the half, Xavier was on top 29-21. Ohio State cut into the lead when Johnson took a jab step and put the ball on the floor and got to the rim for a score and was fouled. He knocked down the ensuing free throw and the deficit was at five. Four straight Musketeer points forced Chris Holtmann to call timeout with 43 seconds left in the half and Ohio State down 9. A blocked shot led to a run out and Xavier scored to up the Musketeer lead to 11. A pair of Kyle Young free throws in the waning seconds of the half cut the lead to 9 and at the half, Xavier led Ohio State 35-26. The Buckeyes shot a miserable 33% from the floor and turned it over 9 times contributing to the deficit. Xavier hit just under 46% from the field and scored 8 points off the Ohio State turnovers. Meechie Johnson led all scorers at the break with 9, while Malaki Branham added 7.

The Musketeers were first on the board in the second half, increasing the lead to 11 when a pair of free throws dropped, but Ohio State answered, scoring the next 5 on a dribble drive and score from Young and a Liddell old-fashioned three point play. Just as Ohio State was trying to claw back, a Xavier triple increased the Musketeer lead back to nine.  Liddell tipped in a Branham miss to trim the deficit to seven and at the under 16 media timeout, Ohio State trailed Xavier 40-33. The Buckeyes cut it to five when Liddell’s turn around fade away fell from the right wing. Four straight Musketeer points gave Xavier a nine point lead, exactly where it stood at the half, at the under 12 minute timeout. The run increased to 6 straight and the lead went to 11 when a pair of free throws fell.  Three Justin Ahrens free throws cut into the Xavier lead and got Ohio State to within 8, but Xavier answered with a bucket making the deficit 10. Young buried a triple from the top to cut the lead to 7, but went back to 9 after a Xavier bucket at the rim fell. The Buckeyes cut the lead to 6 when inside out action allowed Liddell to find Jamari Wheeler in the left corner for three, but a 4-0 Xavier run put Ohio State back down 10. A Zed Key jump hook cut the lead to 8 and two Kyle Young free throws cut the lead to 6. Ohio State got a little closer when Liddell split a pair of free throws and the Buckeyes were on a 5-0 run as the Ohio State zone was affecting the Musketeers in the half court. With the Buckeyes looking to cut into the lead further, a hard Musketeer foul on Gene Brown sent Brown to the floor hard and he had to leave. As by rule, when a player leaves, the opposing head coach can choose anyone on the floor to take the free throws and he chose Zed Key. Key missed the front end and after the miss, a Xavier three from the left corner broke a nearly four minute drought without a field goal and increased Xavier’s lead to 8 and Ohio State took a timeout, trailing Xavier by 8 with 4:18 left in the game. Out of the timeout, Johnson drilled a triple to get Ohio State back within 5 and after a pair of blocked shots, Johnson got quickly to the rim for a lay in to cut the lead to 3 and force Xavier to call timeout with the Musketeers leading the Buckeyes 57-54 and 3:20 left in regulation and Ohio State on a 10-3 run. A pair of Xavier buckets sandwiched around a Liddell bucket had Xavier up 5 with 2 minutes to go and two more Xavier free throws put Xavier up 7 and time running out on the Buckeyes.Young completed an old fashioned three point play after scoring at the rim off a nifty feed from Johnson and Chris Holtmann called timeout with 1:34 to go and the Buckeyes down 4. Xavier scored at the rim to go up 6 before Liddell drilled a triple from the left wing to cut the lead to 3. Xavier answered with a dribble drive for a dunk putting Xavier up 5 as time was running short on Ohio State. Johnson found Wheeler in the right corner for three to cut the lead to two and a quick foul sent Xavier to the line for two. Both freebies dropped and after an Ohio State turnover, a quick foul sent Xavier back to the line and both free throws dropped and the game ended with Xavier pulling off the upset at home.

Ohio State will learn from this and move on.  The young backcourt, started to grow up a bit in the second half.  Meechie Johnson made some big time plays down the stretch to help get Ohio State close and Malaki Branham showed an ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim.  He will just need to find a way to finish a little better and he absolutely will. They made the proper adjustments in the second half, going to a zone just beyond the midway part of the second half to slow Xavier and it was successful, allowing Ohio State to make a charge. They were a little loose with the basketball in the first half to the tune of 9 turnovers, but did a much better job in the second half and Ohio State will definitely need to be better in that area for 40 minutes to beat good teams. The Buckeyes will also have to be better on the defensive glass to limit the opponent’s opportunities and that will certainly be a focus moving forward. Make no mistake Xavier is a solid team, but not an elite basketball team and Ohio State will face stiffer challenges down the road, but playing without their most versatile player, Justice Sueing and also without Seth Towns, Ohio State as Chris Holtmann has stressed, is most definitely a work in progress. The talent is there and getting the young backcourt experience and confidence along with getting Sueing and Towns back as soon as possible is critical for this team to reach their ceiling.  It won’t happen overnight but there will absolutely be better days ahead.

The Buckeyes will next suit up in Fort Myers, Florida in the Fort Myers Tip Off, taking on Seton Hall on Monday evening.  That game is scheduled for a 6:00pm tip and airing on FS1.

-Jason Harris 

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