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Men’s Basketball: Ohio State’s interior strength paying dividends for team success early

Forward Jae’Sean Tate attempts a lay-up in the Buckeyes’ 80-55 win over Northeastern on Sunday. Credit: Jacob Myers | Managing Editor for Content

Ohio State’s lineup has held a size advantage over every opponent played through its first three games.

But against Northeastern, the Buckeyes found themselves in an unfamiliar position. They were the shorter team. Position-by-position, there was not a single Buckeye-starter taller than the Huskie-starters, and only at one position was the size equal.

It didn’t seem to matter, though. For its fourth-straight game, Ohio State dominated the interior, out-rebounding Northeastern 38-29 and vastly out-producing the Huskies in the paint, holding an advantage of 48-26 in points in the paint.

Northeastern head coach Bill Coen said while his team held the advantage in height over the Buckeyes, it was the girth and tenacity of the Buckeyes that proved the difference-maker.

“They got some wide-bodies and they can carve out space in and around the basket and it’s hard to move them out once they gain position,” Coen said after the game. “You look at a guy like Charles Barkley, he’s not 7-foot, but he could rebound because he’s got a low center of gravity and he can wedge in there and create space for himself. They’ve got some tough body types, the matchup too. I think really good physical strength and they were able to hold their position and game position.”

The weight advantage did not extend to every player the Buckeyes had, however. Center Micah Potter and guards Musa Jallow and C.J. Jackson did not hold a size advantage over their counterparts.

However, Ohio State’s top-rebounders, forwards Jae’Sean Tate and Keita Bates-Diop, both came in with significant weight advantages over their opposite numbers. As a result, both players proved to be explosive threats for the Buckeyes in the post. The two were the game’s leading scorers with 24 and 19 points, respectively.

The domination in the paint began right out of the gate from Tate, who bullied his way through defenders in the game’s opening minutes. He opened the game up with a layup after he saw no one open to pass to and followed that up shortly after with a short-range jumper. About five minutes into the game, Tate had 11 points — all coming from plays in the post.

Bates-Diop also put together a dominating performance inside. Of his 19 points, eight came from a pair of layups, a short-range jumper and a dunk with one free-throw coming off an and-1 on a layup and two other free-throws coming from fouls inside the paint.

Tate said strong play inside has become a mantra for he and Bates-Diop this season, but also said his teammates interior play has assisted the two forwards.

“Me and Keita were very effective [inside],” Tate said. “Some people call a matchup problem and just out teammates, the point guard, C.J. [Jackson] being aware of the mismatch in the situations, he’s doing a great job of that.”

Ohio State has been no stranger to dominating inside this season. Before this game, Ohio State held a 138-66 advantage in paint points and had out-rebounded opponents 135-85. Of Ohio State’s 259 points total, 53.3 percent of them came from inside.

Part of the reason Ohio State has been so productive in the paint has been its ability to recover offensive rebounds. The Buckeyes are tied for 38th in the country with an average of 15 offensive rebounds per game.

Head coach Chris Holtmann said his team last year at Butler was a strong defensive rebounding team, but it was one of the worst at collecting rebounds off the offensive glass. The now-Ohio State head coach said he thinks this team has a chance to be an all-around great team at gather rebounds.

“We have a chance to be a pretty good rebounding team,” Holtmann said. “We better be good defensive rebounding. We were a good defensive rebounding at Butler as well, but I think we have the potential to be good on both ends if we pursue the ball like we need to. Because we have some guys that have a natural nose for the ball.”

With several other big men like forwards Kaleb Wesson and Kyle Young at 6-foot-9, 270 pounds and 6-foot-8, 205 pounds, respectively, Ohio State has plenty of size to continue to beat up on most teams throughout the season and dominate in the paint and on the glass.

The Buckeyes might not be able to do that in their next matchup, however. They are going to be traveling to Portland, Oregon, to take on Gonzaga, a team Holtmann said was big last season and has continued to dominate its opponents with size this season.

Going up against one of the first teams that will truly have Ohio State beat in size in both height and girth, Ohio State could be faced with its first real challenge this season.

“Well I think we’re going to learn a lot about kind of our tenacity when it comes to pursuing the ball in those situations,” Holtmann said. “They’re always kind of one of the biggest teams both in size and in physicality in the country. Last year they were massive. This year, they’re big as well and they’re really organized and they’re older. They don’t beat themselves.

“I think as much as anything, it’s going to test us in a lot of ways, but it’s going to test our pursuit of the ball and our tenacity and how tough-minded we are.”

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