It was physical, it was ugly, but the Ohio State Buckeyes will take it.
As much as OSU’s in-state matchup with the Cincinnati Bearcats featured stout defense from both programs, it also included struggling offenses that each endured quite a few extensive scoring droughts.
Nevertheless, the Buckeyes fended off a late comeback attempt and earned a crucial season-opening 64-56 victory.
The Bearcats were within reach for the majority of the game, however they played catch up for essentially the entire 40 minutes. Cincinnati scored the game’s first three points. Once OSU took a 4-3 advantage a little over five minutes into the first half, it never looked back.
Points were rare to come by, especially in the first half. But, the Buckeyes managed a key 9-2 run to end the half leading 27-18.
OSU maintained a double-digit edge for a while in the second half. Cincy had many opportunities to fully shift the momentum, but came up short for the most part.
The Bearcats did manage to cut OSU’s lead 60-56 with 59.5 seconds remaining in the game. The door was suddenly wide open for Cincy. Then, C.J. Jackson slammed it shut with an athletic scoop layup during the final 10 seconds.
Jackson gave the Buckeyes an insurmountable 62-56 lead for the Bearcats with only a few seconds left. That was the dagger. OSU could exhale a sigh of relief.
Let’s take a glance at what we learned from the first regular season matchup between OSU and Cincinnati since 1921.
What We Learned:
1. Evident that Ohio State is going to need some time to find its new identity.
It really shouldn’t come as any surprise that the Buckeyes looked out of sync, especially offensively, on Wednesday night. Granted, OSU lost arguably its two most significant contributors from last season in Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate. Bates-Diop led the team in both points and rebounds, while Tate was third in scoring and second in rebounds.
Additionally, fourth-leading scorer from last season, Kam Williams, graduated.
The 25-win Buckeyes, who lost a heartbreaker to Gonzaga in the round of 32 last season, are a thing of the past. Some key contributors are back, such as C.J. Jackson and Kaleb Wesson. Still, this team will have to rely on a far different core than last season.
OSU won, and that is the most important thing here. Still, we witnessed growing pains against the Bearcats.
The Buckeyes shot only 34.6 percent in the first half. K. Wesson and Keyshawn Woods were the only players on Chris Holtman’s team to convert more than one field goal in the first half.
The second half was encouraging for the Buckeyes. OSU finished strong, shot better, and looked a bit more insync.
Despite this, the Buckeyes’ stagnant offense and poor utilization of the shot clock in the first half and some of the second half needs to be addressed moving forward. All of which are products of players holding different roles than last season.
2. Freshman guard Luther Muhammad assured promising ceiling in collegiate debut.
Muhammed was a significant gain for Holtman and his staff, especially considering the production lost from the 2017-’18 campaign.
The former four-star recruit, who held offers from St. Johns, Xavier, Virginia, and West Virginia, put his potential impact into fruition immediately. Muhammad scored 11 points on 4-10 shooting against Cincinnati and also converted 2-3 three-point attempts.
Eight of Muhammad’s points came in the second half. The freshman played 29 minutes in his first college game as well.
The stat line isn’t Zion Williamson level or anything to go crazy over. But, the game was a defensive dog fight. Muhammad was OSU’s third-leading scorer, and you better believe the Buckeyes needed all of those points.
Muhammad definitely gets a passing grade after our first official look at him in a Buckeye uniform. This is especially true considering his four field goals were the most from any OSU player.
This is only the beginning. If Muhammad keeps playing around 30 minutes, which he probably will, he is only going to improve.
3. Defensive performance was one to build off.
In no way will I preach that OSU’s defensive display was incredible because it shut down a high-powered Bearcat offense. Cincinnati was middle of the pack in scoring last season. The Bearcats ranked 143rd in the NCAA with an average of 70 points per game. Cincy also lost a huge chunk of its scoring from last season.
So, offensive cold-spells might became a normal occurrence for the Bearcats. It’s still appropriate to give OSU’s defense credit though.
The Buckeyes flustered their opposition, especially in the first half. Cincinnati only scored 18 points in the first 20 minutes. During that span, the Bearcats shot just 13.4 percent in the first half.
You heard that right, 13.4 percent. Cincinnati made only 4-29 shots in 20 minutes. While some of that can be attributed to an atrocious offense, obviously a lot of it has to do with OSU’s defense.
The Buckeyes forced quick shots and inhibited the Bearcats from making the most of a substantial advantage on the offensive glass. OSU was out-rebounded 19-8 on offense.
The Buckeyes’ defense carried them on Wednesday, as it did at times last season. OSU boasted the 46th best scoring defense in country last season. The Buckeyes allowed less than 70 points per game.
Even with key defenders out of the picture, OSU is capable of successfully relying on its defense when it isn’t putting up points. As was the case tonight.
In spite of numerous struggles that teams tend to experience early in the season, OSU added to the win column on Wednesday. The Buckeyes persevering against the Bearcats on a large stage should add to their confidence.
Ohio State has four remaining opportunities in the non-conference to gain what may end up being quality wins. Considering three of those games are against ranked opponents, going 3-2 in that sample would be considered a victory for Holtmann’s group.
A 1-0 start truly makes doing so possible.