With just one blemish on its record, the No. 13 Ohio State men’s basketball team hosted High Point on Saturday in a final tune-up for Big Ten play.
A few gears still need worked on, and the engine could use some more horsepower at times, but the Buckeyes (12-1) withstood a first-half challenge from the Panthers (6-7) and closed the non-conference portion of the schedule with an 82-64 win at Value City Arena.
Up next: the start of conference play and a home showdown with No. 8 Michigan State on Jan. 5.
It’s the best start to a season in coach Chris Holtmann’s eight years as a Division I head coach and the best for the Buckeyes since they won their first 15 games in the 2013-14 season. It also largely came about thanks to freshman guard Luther Muhammad, who scored a career-high 15 points, limited High Point leading scorer Jahaad Proctor to four points – well short of his 22.3 average – and helped Ohio State turn back a first-half Panthers run.
>> Video: Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann after beating High Point
Senior guard C.J. Jackson led all scorers with 20 points. He scored 22 in Ohio State’s last game, an 80-66 win against UCLA, giving him back-to-back games of 20-plus-points for the first time in his career. Kaleb Wesson added 17 points.
Much like when the Buckeyes hosted Youngstown State 11 days prior, it got ugly for a while. With Kaleb Wesson and Muhammad on the bench, High Point found some first-half footing and ran with it. The Buckeyes led 14-6 only 5:09 into the game after Muhammad hit back-to-back deep threes from the same spot in front of the Panthers’ bench, but poor shot selection and some carelessness with the ball conspired to stagnate the offense.
Behind a balanced attack, High Point was happy to take advantage. Ricky Madison hit a jumper with his foot on the line as the shot clock buzzed with 12:48 left in the half to start what would become a 16-2 run that gave High Point a 22-16 lead when Proctor scored on a layup with 7:04 to play, and the crowd started to grow uneasy. The Buckeyes missed eight of nine shots and the front end of a one-and-one and turned it over twice during the spell, and at one point Holtmann was so incensed at a forced jumper that he punched the scorers’ table in evident frustration.
Wesson, who at one point swished seven straight three-pointers during pregame warmups, halted the run with a three from the top of the circle with 6:35 to play to make it a 22-19 deficit. Three possessions later, he hit another to reclaim the lead for good at 25-24 with 4:57 to play.
From there, order was restored. A 21-6 Ohio State run to close the half, during which the Buckeyes scored 13 straight points at one point, made it a 37-28 halftime lead. By that point, Muhammad had already scored a career-high 14 points while the Panthers had nine different players combine for their 13 field goals.
The Buckeyes scored on their first six possessions of the second half to make the rest of the game mostly academic.
High Point redshirt freshman forward Caden Sanchez, a DeSales product, scored seven points in 17 minutes.
After facing the Panthers annually while coaching Gardner-Webb in the Big South Conference, Holtmann now moves to 3-4 in his career against High Point. He’s also 2-0 against High Point coach Tubby Smith after having beaten his Texas Tech team in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament, when No. 9 seed Butler won, 71-61, at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C.