Chris Holtmann was in a similar mindset heading into his second season as Ohio State’s head coach to his first.
With the loss of reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop and forward Jae’Sean Tate, Holtmann, with a lot of questions still to be answered about his team, focused on the one thing he focused on in his first season: defense.
That is what led Ohio State to its first win of the season on Wednesday night.
In their first matchup within Ohio state borders since 1920, the Buckeyes (1-0) defeated Cincinnati 64-56, allowing the Bearcats (0-1) to shoot 27.4 percent from the field, making six of 26 attempts from three-point range.
After leading the game 27-18 at half, Cincinnati junior guard Jarron Cumberland led the team with 22 points in the second half after missing all three shot attempts in the first half, cutting Ohio State’s lead down to four with 59 seconds left.
But senior guard C.J. Jackson hit a layup with 29 seconds left to secure the eight-point win.
With Ohio State shooting 42.6 percent from the field, sophomore forward Kaleb Wesson led the team with 15 points, making five of nine shots from the field.
The Ohio State defense showed its lack of size after the transfer of junior forward Micah Potter, which the school announced Monday. The Buckeyes were out-rebounded 39-33, with sophomore forward Kyle Young leading the team with eight boards.
Ohio State did not get off to a great start offensively either. The Buckeyes made only one of its first eight shots of the game, a layup by Wesson off a miss from redshirt senior guard Keyshawn Woods.
However, after Woods hit a jumper to give the Buckeyes the lead with 14:40 left in the first half, the Ohio State offense began to settle down a bit, shooting 42.1 percent from the field for the remainder of the half.
Despite being out-rebounded 22-18 in the first half, the Buckeyes forced Cincinnati to make only four of 29 field goals in the first half, connecting on two of 12 from deep.
But the Buckeyes got into some early foul trouble, recording more fouls (11) than field goals (9) in the first half with four players, Kaleb Wesson, Woods, sophomore guard Musa Jallow and junior forward Andre Wesson, each recording two.
With 1:29 left in the first half, senior guard C.J. Jackson knocked down a three-pointer, his first make of the game in six shots, to put the Buckeyes up by 10. Cincinnati junior guard/forward Rashawn Fredericks hit a free throw as the half ended, and Ohio State left with a 27-18 lead.
Cincinnati junior center Nysier Brooks wasted no time to start the second half differently than the first for the Bearcats, hitting a layup in the paint.
But Luther Muhammad answered in a big way.
The freshman guard recorded five of Ohio State’s first seven points in the second half, making both of his field goal attempts after making one of five shots in the first half. He finished the game with 11 points, third-most on the team.
After Brooks’ make to start the second half, Muhammad helped Ohio State to a 9-0 run, including a three-point make from Andre Wesson, extending the Buckeyes lead to 38-22.
With a 16-point deficit, Cumberland made two field goals, leading the Bearcats on a 7-0 run to cut Ohio State’s lead to 41-32 with 12:04 left in the game.
Young became the first Ohio State player to score double-digit points, getting fouled on a layup make, giving the Buckeyes a 14-point lead. He finished the game with 10 points, making both of his shot attempts as well as six of seven from the free throw line.
The Buckeyes had 37 points in the second half, shooting 55 percent from the field. The Ohio State defense took a step back a bit, allowing Cincinnati to shoot 39.2 percent from the field, scoring 38 points in the second half.
Ohio State will open its home schedule Sunday when the Buckeyes take on Purdue Fort Wayne at 4 p.m.