Following two closer-than-expected bouts with in-state rival Akron and Niagara, No. 17 Ohio State concludes a three-game homestand Monday against Bowling Green.
The Buckeyes (2-0, 0-0 Big Ten) won their first two games by a combined 11 points, while the Falcons (1-1, 0-0 MAC) head into Columbus off of a 101-60 blowout of Ohio Wesleyan. Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said his team needs more in-game experiences together to continue to grow.
“We really need to play games. Obviously these first two have been challenging,” Holtmann said. “Monday night’s going to be very challenging, Bowling Green’s team is really good.”
In his seventh season at the helm of the program, Bowling Green head coach Michael Huger has turned in three-consecutive winning seasons for the Falcons — amassing a win percentage of .626 since 2018-19.
Bowling Green split its pair of games to open the season, including an overtime loss to Western Carolina 79-71 to kick off the year. The Falcons secured a win in their home-opener to get back to .500 heading into Monday’s game with Ohio State.
The Falcons are led by fifth-year guard Daeqwon Plowden, who has produced 16 points and 9.5 rebounds per game this season. Plowden’s shooting numbers have been unimpressive to open the season, though, as he has shot just 18.2 percent from three on 5.5 attempts.
While Plowden leads the way, a trio of Falcons also put up double-digit scoring numbers. Graduate guards Trey Diggs and Myron Gordon each add 11.5 points per game, while junior forward Joe Reece puts up 10.5 points per game.
“With Bowling Green, we’ve got a really good opponent, another really good MAC opponent coming in here,” assistant coach Ryan Pedon said. “It’ll be a very challenging game. I think it will be a very physical game.”
Junior forward E.J. Liddell has largely fueled Ohio State’s offense, scoring 25 and 29 points in the first two games, respectively.
Opposing teams may soon solve the Buckeyes’ reliance on Liddell to generate production, and Holtmann said he’s searching for other contributors.
Graduate guard Cedric Russell, who averaged 17.2 points per game last season at Louisiana, could return Monday after a death in the family, according to Pedon. Graduate forward Kyle Young made his season debut Friday following a vestibular dysfunction diagnosis, grabbing a team-high seven rebounds and scoring five points.
“We’re going to have to continue to make strides,” Pedon said. “I think getting our guys to realize that it’s not always going to look pretty early as we’re learning about one another, learning how to play with one another as we’re defining roles. We’re going to have to lean on some of our veterans here early.”
Uncertainty remains surrounding the Buckeyes’ backcourt, which had a better showing against Niagara on both ends of the court. Graduate guard Jamari Wheeler more than quadrupled his production from opening night with nine points in addition to making six assists and poking two steals.
Freshmen guards Malaki Branham and Meechie Johnson Jr. each have a start this season, with the former making the first of his collegiate career last time out. Ohio State’s youth have blended well alongside the number of veterans on its roster, as sophomore forward Zed Key is shooting over 66 percent from the field and is second in blocks and steals.
Ohio State may be perfect from a records standpoint, but it hasn’t shown an ability to dominate for extended stretches, allowing both Akron and Niagara to hang around late into the second halves. While improvement can be a process, Johnson said he hopes Ohio State can begin to put things together as soon as possible, noting the team “can’t play like rookies.”
“We’re trying to get it now. We’re trying to pick this up now,” Johnson said. “At the end of the day, we’re always going to be learning. We’re trying to get this thing going now.”
The Buckeyes and Falcons will tip off at 6:30 p.m. in Value City Arena. Big Ten Network will televise.