Gene Brown provides spark as Ohio State eventually overwhelms IUPUI

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch

After forcing a travel on the defensive end, Ohio State got the ball to its primary scorer in E.J. Liddell. Reading the IUPUI defense, the forward fed a pass to center Zed Key, who laid in the first points of the game.

From behind the bench area, the chant went up Buckeye Nuthouse student section.

“Start the busses!” they yelled.

Ohio State's Jamari Wheeler fights through pressure from IUPUI defenders during the Ohio State vs. Indiana University/Purdue University Indianapolis men's basketball game Tuesday, January 18, 2022 at the Value City Arena in the Schottenstein Center.

It took until the second half for the No. 19 Buckeyes (12-4, 5-2 Big Ten) to finally overpower lowly IUPUI (1-15, 0-6 Horizon League), but the students had the right idea. Against a Jaguars team ranked No. 356 nationally out of 358 Division I teams according to KenPom.com, Ohio State got a career night from Gene Brown III, a double-double from E.J. Liddell and a balanced scoring effort across the roster in a 83-37 win.

"This is a game we’re playing a team we knew was in rebuild mode," Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. "This was as much as anything about us continuing to make some improvements in some areas."

Ahead 37-22 at the break, Holtmann made one change to his lineup to open the second half. Second-year guard Brown, who has seen a recent uptick in playing time during the three games Meechie Johnson has missed with a facial injury, replaced senior captain Justin Ahrens and quickly made an impact. He finished a sequence of nice ball movement with a layup to push the lead to 41-26, hit a 3-pointer three possessions later and threw down a slam dunk on the next one to force an IUPUI timeout with 15:27 to play.

To that point, the lead was at a game-high 22 points at 50-28 and Brown had seven second-half points as part of a 13-6 run to open the half and give him 13 for the game.

The rest was all academic against the lowest-rated team to play the Buckeyes in the KenPom era that dates back to the 2001-02 season. Both teams agreed to the game after going through multi-week COVID-19 pauses in December. The Jaguars entered with their lone win coming against non-Division I foe Spalding University on Nov. 23 and an average scoring margin of minus-14.5 points. After hosting Penn State on Sunday and facing a one-day prep, Holtmann said the primary goal of the game was to get game reps for his players after losing three games during their 22-day layoff.

Liddell finished with his seventh career double-double, scoring 13 points and pulling down 10 boards. When he grabbed his final rebound with 12:47 to play, he had personally outrebounded the Jaguars 10-9.

Brown would finish with a game-high 14 while Cedric Russell added 12. All 11 Buckeyes to see game action made at least one field goal. Ohio State had hit six total 3-pointers in its prior two games but went 11 for 23 (47.8%) from deep in this one.

"We got to experience some different lineups," guard Jimmy Sotos, who had 7 points and nine assists, both season-high totals, said. "We got to hang our hat on defense in the second half. Definitely not taking them lightly at all. It was good to get out there and play games."

The 46-point margin of victory was Ohio State's largest since a 107-61 win against Purdue Fort Wayne on Nov. 11, 2018. The 38 points were the fewest scored by an Ohio State opponent since Louisiana-Monroe scored 31 on Dec. 27, 2013.

Before the Jaguars got on the board, Ohio State had blocked two shots, forced a shot-clock violation and another turnover and jumped out to a 9-0 lead while hitting four of its first five shots barely three minutes into the game. IUPUI didn’t score until a free throw with 15:49 to play, but it started a 5-0 run to pull within four points as Ohio State went empty on four straight possessions while committing a pair of turnovers.

The Buckeyes turned up the offense there, scoring on nine straight possessions, but the lead only grew from 9-5 to 28-18 as the Jaguars started to settle in as well. But once Gene Brown III hit a pair of free throws with 7:05 left in the half to give the Buckeyes a 28-16 lead, Ohio State would miss seven of its next eight shots as the lead remained 8-10 points. The half would end with a turnover when Justin Ahrens stepped out of bounds before attempting a 3-pointer with 3.7 seconds left and an airball from IUPUI’s Bakari LaStrap to set the score at 37-24.

After outscoring IUPUI 9-0 in the first 3:04, the Buckeyes only outscored the Jaguars 28-24 in the final 16:56 of the half. Three Buckeyes had seven points at the break: E.J. Liddell, Malaki Branham and Zed Key.

Ahrens, mired in a shooting slump since the program returned from pause, missed his first four 3-point attempts and had a pair of turnovers before connecting on his fifth try. With 6:23 left in the game, Ahrens took a pass along the left wing with no defenders within the same area code, dribbled once and swished the attempt. 

As he headed back down the court, Ahrens visibly sighed as those in attendance cheered.

Newly converted walk-on Harrison Hookfin scored his first points of the season with 1:08 to play on a floater in the lane.

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy