Ohio State men's basketball preparing for physical challenge from visiting Morehead State

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State Buckeyes forward E.J. Liddell (32) tries to pass out of Illinois State Redbirds defenders during the first half of a NCAA Division I men's basketball game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Illinois State Redbirds on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020 at Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio.

There was a time when Ohio State’s 2020-21 schedule was set to rival the most challenging of any season in program history.

As the slate of games has morphed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and the Buckeyes had to adjust a 31-game schedule to 27, the Buckeyes have had to change plans, schedule on the fly and keep alternate options on the backburner should the virus force cancelations. The schedule as now it stands isn’t as formidable on paper as it was when Ohio State was planning to participate in the Battle 4 Atlantis and then the Crossover Classic, but it’s still providing challenges for the No. 23 Buckeyes.

That much was evident in Sunday’s 10-point win against UMass Lowell, a team picked to finish seventh in the 10-team America East Conference. The 74-64 Ohio State win was a single-digit affair until the final moment, and the visiting River Hawks held a five-point lead during the second half.

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Wednesday evening, the Buckeyes host Morehead State, a team that was on their initial schedule as announced during the summer. The Eagles opened the season with two losses in Kentucky’s Bluegrass Showcase before a Nov. 29 home win against Arkansas State.

It adds up to a No. 313 national ranking according to KenPom.com, but Ohio state coach Chris Holtmann said the game will challenge the Buckeyes in a new way.

“They’re the most physical team we’ve played for sure with their size and how physical and hard they play,” he said Tuesday. “We’re going to have to be physical. They play a really challenging schedule that has shown that they’ve got some really competitive guys and some real fight to them. I’m excited about that opportunity.

“It’s going to be the most physical game we’ve played, by far, through three games.”

Morehead State was picked eighth in the 12-team Ohio Valley Conference in the league’s preseason poll. No Eagles placed on the 12-member preseason all-conference team, but freshman forward Johni Broome was named OVC freshman of the week Monday after he scored 25 points in the win against Arkansas State.

Through three games, he leads the team in scoring at 14.0 points per game. He tied for the team lead with 11 points in the season opener against Kentucky and has started the next two games. He’s listed at 6-10, 240 pounds, and he leads the team with five blocks. He ranks 94th nationally in block percentage at 6.9%.

Holtmann cited him as a concern for his front line. No player in Ohio State’s rotation stands taller than 6-8.

“Morehead plays really hard,” he said. “You can tell they have a clear vision for what they want to do on both ends, and they’re physical.”

The Buckeyes will be without fourth-year junior guard Musa Jallow, who played in the season-opening win against Illinois State and was warming up to face UMass Lowell but suffered an injury and watched the game with a walking boot on his right leg. After the game, Holtmann said the injury was not related to the two ankle surgeries he had that sidelined him last season and led to a medical redshirt, and Tuesday said he would miss the Morehead State game.

“He continues to battle that lower leg injury,” he said. “I’ll keep it general with that. I think he’s making progress, but as far as projecting beyond our game versus Morehead I couldn’t give you answers on that.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy