(Photo Courtesy Interlake News DC)
Thus far this season the Buckeyes have relatively been unchallenged – there was the Cincinnati brawl in the season opener – but largely, The Ohio State University Buckeyes Men’s Basketball has found little confrontation on the court this year. The Buckeyes in that opener against the Bearcats of Cincinnati, eventually won by nine – in a stretch to remember. They then went off and toppled the 10th ranked (at the time) Villanova Wildcats in a nice presentation of talent. Then, of course, there’s the routs delivered to the likes of UMass Lowell, Stetson and Purdue Fort Wayne.
There’ll be plenty of challenge for the Buckeyes come December in match up’s against Kentucky, University of North Carolina and West Virginia. But, yeah, before all that happens came Kent State to St. John’s arena last night.
The final score Buckeyes winning, 71-52, does not truly reflect just how much this game wasn’t to be taken for granted.
“To be honest with you, we needed a game like this,” Ohio State men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann said.
It’s easy to look good playing basketball when everything is going your way. And the start of the 2019-20 season has seemed remarkably easy for Ohio State.
The problem is rarely does everything go that way as the Buckeyes witnessed against the Golden Flashes.
Leading by 17 points early in the second half, Ohio State watched Kent State rally to tie the game at 48 over a seven-minute stretch. Nevertheless, the Buckeyes were undeterred.
“We’re fighters,” OSU sophomore guard Luther Muhammad said. “They made a huge run. They cut the lead to four and we could have got wild and just came down chucking up shots after that, trying to make hero plays, but we stayed together, and we just took it one possession at a time and defense first and then offense, and that just led us to the win.”
From that tie, Ohio State went on a 17-0 run en route to the win.
There are plenty of hiccups in college basketball. Just ask Kentucky and Michigan State. But the Buckeyes avoided one against a truly veteran squad from the Mid-American Conference that is big and physical and tough and skilled. The Flashes are a team that will menace in the always competitive MAC.
“It was physical. We needed that,” Holtmann said. “We now need to take and learn how to be better in this area.”
The Buckeyes though stepped up the second Kent State tied it. Muhammad hit five straight free throws – and off the Buckeyes went. This surge forced Kent State into 10 straight misses with four turnovers over the final 10 minutes with its defense.
Kaleb Wesson experiencing foul trouble for the first time all season, and to the credit of the Buckeyes, his teammates picked up the slack in the 19 minutes he sat out. That shows growth by the Holtmann admitted that’s a big question for the team this year.
“How do we play for long stretches without him? In particular, how do we score and rebound without him? That’s where other guys have to continue to get better,” Holtmann said.
Wesson finished with 17 points and six rebounds in just 21 minutes, while Duane Washington Jr. continued his torrid play with 16 points and three assists on 6 of 9 shooting. Muhammad ended with 13 points and D.J. Carton came up with 11 off the bench, including a pair of highlight reel finishes at the rim.
This Friday night the Buckeyes will host Morgan State at 9 p.m. back in the Schottenstein Center, but from there – nothing comes easy.
They go to North Carolina on Wednesday, Dec. 4, for a Big Ten-ACC Challenge game, then get Penn State at home and a roadie to Minnesota to kickoff Big Ten play.
After hosting Southeast Missouri State in the middle of December, OSU faces Kentucky and West Virginia before the New Year.
And then the Big Ten grind begins.
If the early returns are to be believed, the Buckeyes appear to be up to the many challenges that lie between now and March.