The Ohio State men’s basketball team (5-2) returned to Columbus late Sunday night from the PK80 Invitational in Portland, Oregon following a 67-66 loss to Butler.
The Buckeyes blew a 15-point lead in the final four minutes and lost in overtime. Ahead of his team’s Wednesday showdown against Clemson (5-1), head coach Chris Holtmann said he’s trying to find balance between allowing his team to rest and preparing for its fourth straight high-major opponent.
“From what I’ve been able to watch, I really like this Clemson team. I think they’re older, they’re skilled, Brad [Brownell] does a great job,” Holtmann said. “So it’s gonna be a fun challenge for us, and we’re excited about it and excited to prepare.”
Clemson has demonstrated improved accuracy from the field this season, making 50.3 percent of shot attempts. Ohio State has shot 46.1 percent from the field.
Veteran forwards Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate have led the Buckeyes with 16.9 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, and 13.7 points and 7.3 rebounds, respectively.
The Tigers are led by forwards senior Donte Grantham and junior Elijah Thomas. Grantham averages 16 points and six rebounds per game, shooting 69.8 percent from the field and 47.6 percent from the 3-point line. Thomas averages 13 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, shooting 70.5 percent from the field.
Freshman forward Kaleb Wesson said defending Clemson’s big men will require more than just a few players giving effort defensively.
“It’s gonna have to be a team effort,” Wesson said. “If people [are] shooting 70 percent from the floor, that means they’re getting good shots. They’re not shooting bad shots, so everybody got to join in and guard everybody.”
The Tigers do not solely rely on their big men, however. Each of their starters averages 11-plus points per game. They also have multiple threats from 3-point distance. In addition to Grantham, senior guard Gabe Devoe makes nearly two 3-pointers per game at a 39.3 percent clip and redshirt senior forward/center Mark Donnal has made five of seven shots from beyond the arc.
Ohio State has not defended the perimeter well this season, allowing more than eight 3-pointers per game. Holtmann said that’s an area that could decide the game.
“We’ve not defended the 3 as well as I would have hoped,” Holtmann said. “And overall, we’ve defended well. We have been pretty solid defensively. I wish we would defend the 3 a little bit better but that’s certainly going to be important tomorrow.”
Ohio State has shot poorly so far this season and struggled with turnovers, which makes defending on the other end of the floor that much more important in maximizing possessions.
“We just gonna have to execute on defense,” redshirt senior guard Kam Williams said. “We just got to lock in ― try to string three stops in a row, five stops in a row. We not gonna shut them out, but if we just stay connected on the defensive end, hopefully that will just help us out and put less pressure on our offense.”
The Buckeyes also will need to win the battle inside to win the game given Clemson’s talented frontcourt. The Buckeyes have outrebounded opponents 41.1-32 on average, while the Tigers have outrebounded opponents 38-30.
Holtmann said sophomore center Micah Potter did not play much against Butler because of his lingering ankle injury. Wesson has started in Potter’s place and will need to step up in the paint against Clemson, especially if Potter continues to be limited.
Ohio State has given out 5,000 student tickets already as part of the free student ticket giveaway in an attempt to generate a home-court advantage with a larger, and potentially louder, crowd, Holtmann said.
“I think every time you go out you have an opportunity to kind of define who you are and who you want to be as a team and as a program,” Holtmann said. “And that’ll be the case certainly tomorrow against a really quality opponent.”