Buckeyes Shake Off Rust, Run Away From Alabama A&M

For 20 minutes, Ohio State looked like a team coming off an extended holiday break, struggling to find any consistency on the offensive end, despite leading for nearly the entire half. The second half was a different story as the Buckeyes outscored the Bulldogs 54-26 en route to a 90-59 win in front of a crowd of over 19,000 at the Schott. The win improved Ohio State to 9-3 on the year and with the loss, Alabama A&M slipped to 4-9. In a tale of two halves, the Buckeyes rebounded from a poor shooting first half to shoot the ball at a 59% clip in the second twenty minutes and 52% for the game, while holding the Bulldogs to just 39%. Brice Sensabaugh led Ohio State with a game high 21 points to go along with 6 rebounds, while Justice Sueing added 18 points and Bruce Thornton added 12 and 5 assists. Zed Key just missed a double double, scoring 9 points, while pulling down 10 rebounds. In a game that had Ohio State fully healthy for the first time all season, Eugene Brown got his first action, playing 5 minutes and Ice Likekele made his return, dishing out 5 assists in just 9 minutes on the floor. The Buckeyes out rebounded the Bulldogs 42-30 and assisted on 19 of 32 made baskets. 
The Buckeyes raced out to a 9-4 lead through 4 minutes. 7 of the 9 early points came from Brice Sensabaugh including a game opening triple from the left corner. Out of the media timeout, Bruce Thornton scored right of the rim on a dribble drive, but Alabama A&M went on a 9-2 scoring run thanks to 3 triples to tie the game. A Tanner Holden 17 footer from the right elbow broke the tie and after a Bulldog miss Justice Sueing drove baseline for a score in transition as he was fouled. The ensuing free throw dropped to complete the old-fashioned three point play and the Buckeyes led by 5. A quick A&M bucket was followed by a left corner triple by Sean McNeil but racing to the other end, the Bulldogs scored at the rim and at the under 12 timeout, Ohio State led 21-17 in an up and down game. Out of the timeout, Gene Brown III entered the game for the first time this season and Ohio State extended their lead. Sueing took an offensive rebound back up for a score and after Felix Okpara split a pair of free throws, the Buckeyes led by 7. An old-fashioned three point play by the Bulldogs trimmed the lead to 4, but off a baseline inbounds curl, Thornton drilled a 5 footer to increase the Buckeye lead and at the under 8, Ohio State led 26-20. Alabama A&M went on a 6-1 run to trim the lead to 1 as the Buckeyes went over 3 minutes without a field goal. Sensabaugh ended the run, hitting a 17 foot jumper off the bounce. Zed Key split a pair of free throws to extend the lead to 4 but a Bulldog triple after an offensive rebound cut the lead back to just 1 and at the final media timeout of the first half, Ohio State was clinging to a 30-29 lead. Thornton split a pair of free throws to extend the lead, but a Bulldog triple put Alabama A&M in front for the first time. The Bulldogs extended the lead, splitting a pair of free throws, but a pair from Thornton tied the game with just over a minute to play in the half and enter Ice Likekele who had missed the prior three games with personal issues. After a Bulldog miss, Likekele found Key sliding down the lane for two. A&M took a timeout with 38.4 remaining in the half with the Buckeyes leading 35-33. After a turnover and foul, Sueing split a pair of freebies and after an A&M triple clanged off the rim at the horn, Ohio State took a 36-33 lead into the break. The Buckeyes shot just 44% from the floor in the first half, including an abysmal 2 of 12 from three. As bad as the shooting from the field was in the first half, the free throw shooting was worse, hitting just 10 of 18 from the stripe contributing to just a 3 point halftime lead. The Bulldogs shot 42% from the floor, yet they did knock down 5 of 11 from beyond the arc. The Buckeyes held a 22-15 rebounding edge and trailed for just 48 seconds of the first 20 minutes despite the poor offensive numbers. Brice Sensabaugh led Ohio State with 11 first half points, while Bruce Thornton added 8. 
The Buckeyes came out of the locker room with a little more urgency. On the first possession, a two man game executed to perfection as Sueing fed Key, who gave back to Sueing streaking down the lane and he flushed it home. After an A&M miss, McNeil drilled a left corner three in transition and the Buckeyes were off and rolling. The Bulldogs scored 4 of the next 6, but Thornton scored on an up and under along the baseline and Sensabaugh drilled a 10 foot pull up fade away jumper and at the under 16 media break, Ohio State led 47-37. The lead extended to 14 when Okpara split a pair of free throws and after an A&M offensive foul turned it over to the Buckeyes, Sueing drilled a three from the left wing. A 5-0 Bulldog run ended when a Roddy Gayle pass from the right block found Sueing on the weak side wing for three. After A&M split a pair of free throws, Sensabaugh scored on a dribble drive off the window and at the under 12 minute media timeout, the Buckeyes had outscored the Bulldogs 22-10 in the second half and opened up a 59-45 lead. A mid-paint Key hook dropped and a transition dunk by Holden had the Buckeyes off and running, leading by 19. A&M scored on a tip dunk, but the Buckeyes answered with a dunk of their own as Thornton lobbed to Sueing who caught and put it down from the left baseline. A missed defensive rotation on the other end led to a Bulldog dunk and Coach Chris Holtmann called a timeout, not liking what he was seeing on the defensive end. Out of the timeout, the Buckeyes on the press break got the ball into the hands of Ice Likekele who took it all the way to the bucket for 2 off the glass. After a Bulldog miss, a touch pass from Likekele to Sensabaugh on the left wing for three had the Buckeyes in front 69-47 at the under 8 media timeout. The Bulldogs used tempo to go on a 6-2 run to cut the lead to 18, but six straight Buckeye points answered the run. An A&M offensive rebound and bucket was followed by Sensabaugh fade away 10 footer and at the final media timeout of the game, Ohio State was firmly in control, leading 79-55. The Buckeyes increased the lead when Gayle found Bowen Hardman in the left corner for three. After a pair of A&M free throws, Gayle dribbled down the middle of the lane and flushed it home with one hand bringing the big afternoon crowd to their feet. After a Bulldog turnover, Brown bagged a pair of free throws for his first points of the year. The Bulldogs scored in transition and on the other end, walk-on Owen Spencer split a pair of free throws, missing the second, but a pair of offensive rebounds led to another Hardman triple to complete the scoring and a Buckeye win.
In what Chris Holtmann called their toughest mid-major challenge due to Alabama A&M’s size and athleticism, it turned out to be just that for 20 minutes as the Buckeyes came out extremely flat off the Christmas Holiday break. The second half was another story as the Buckeyes came out of the locker room with a sense of urgency and it translated on the scoreboard as the Buckeyes got their offense going and ran away with it. That wraps the non conference portion of the 2022-23 schedule and puts a bow on 2022.  The Buckeyes are now staring down a 19 game conference grind over the next 9 weeks beginning on New Year’s Day. Ohio State is sitting in a good spot with a 9-3 record and had a chance to win every game. For a relatively young group, they have to like where they are, but they will certainly be tested physically and mentally as they progress into 2023.  For now the eyes of Buckeye nation will turn their attention to beating another Bulldogs team on Saturday night, but the following night, back to the hardwood with Ohio State starting the Big Ten grind at Northwestern.
The Buckeyes will hit the road, heading to Evanston, Illinois to take on the Northwestern Wildcats on Sunday evening.  Tip time is scheduled for 7:30 PM and airing on BTN.
-Jason Harris
Photo Credit: The San Diego Union-Tribune

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