Less than a month before the basketball season officially begins against Robert Morris, Chris Holtmann and company opened up a portion of practice for media members and Buckeye fans at the Schottenstein Center Monday.
In more than an hour of action, Ohio State allowed onlookers to watch some defensive movement/rebounding drills, 2-on-2 work, situational 5-on-5 play and full-court scrimmaging, and we got video of all of it.
The scarlet team in 5-on-5 play consisted of Bruce Thornton, Roddy Gayle, Brice Sensabaugh, Eugene Brown and Zed Key, with Kalen Etzler serving as an alternate who saw time with both groups. The gray team was made up of Isaac Likekele, Sean McNeil, Tanner Holden, Justice Sueing and Felix Okpara.
Ohio State ran several sets of a 5-on-5 situation in which just 58 seconds remained on the clock, but then moved onto a more free-flowing fullcourt scrimmage which saw the gray team take the edge. As a result, the scarlet group ran sprints up and door the floor while the winners stood on the sideline.
The Buckeye then simulated the final six minutes of a game, including a “media timeout,” and the gray team held a 14-7 lead with 45 seconds left before Holtmann signaled the end of play following a Holden steal that would have led to another bucket for his side.
Ohio State finished up with some free-throw shooting, and closed the event out with a Q&A session run by former Buckeye captain Ron Stokes. Stokes asked Sueing, Key, Brown and Likekele a series of questions before Holtmann spoke in front of the crowd, and you can watch the entire session below.
Sueing, Holden, Okpara and Likekele were among the Buckeyes who stood out during the on-court portion of the festivities.
Sueing finds his rhythm
It took a few minutes for the sixth-year college basketball veteran and second-year Buckeye captain to get going, but Sueing hit his stride from the second set of 5-on-5 play on.
Sueing, who received full medical clearance in late August after missing all but two games last season due to an abdominal injury, knocked down a 3-pointer from the wing and a baseline jumper to help lead the gray team to victory in Ohio State’s more free-flowing scrimmage session. In the six-minute scrimmage, Sueing hit two of the first three shots for the gray team, both 3-pointers, scored on a putback layup in transition and also dished an assist to McNeil for another three.
Sueing, who was primarily matched up with Sensabaugh, made a big play on defense with a steal near midcourt which led to another basket for the gray team. While Likekele ran point for the gray team for most of the action, Sueing also orchestrated the offense on a few possessions before all was said and done.
Justice Sueing greeting the crowd after practice pic.twitter.com/wkAb3koBYL— Griffin Strom (@GriffinStrom3) October 10, 2022
Holden shows craft on offense
While the gray team didn’t necessarily look for Holden as a go-to scorer in 1-on-1 situations, the Wright State transfer found his offense in a variety of ways as he finished the day as one of the leading scorers for his side (unofficially).
Tanner Holden gets the bucket on Brice Sensabaugh during 2 on 2 drills pic.twitter.com/jtKTt0tMmI— Griffin Strom (@GriffinStrom3) October 10, 2022
During Ohio State’s 58-second situational scrimmages, Holden faked out Key on a mid-range up-and-under for two points, and scored on a dribble-drive floater on the very next possession. Holden finished with eight points during that part of practice to lead all gray team scorers, converting on two other layups. Holden also took a charge on a transition drive from Sensabaugh to get the ball back on what could’ve been a bucket for the scarlet side.
Holden didn’t make as much noise in the six-minute scrimmage, but came up with the aforementioned steal in the scarlet backcourt in what would have been an easy transition bucket had Holtmann not whistled play dead.
The 6-foot-6 guard was matched up with Brown for much of the practice and showed off his offensive rebounding instincts on multiple occasions. Holden averaged 7.1 rebounds per game from the guard position at Wright State a season ago and proved why on Monday.
Okpara blocks several shots
While Okpara, a 6-foot-11 center, didn’t make much of a difference on offense, he did look ready to make an impact straight away as a rim protector for the Buckeyes in Monday’s scrimmage sessions.
When Ohio State began its 58-second scrimmage drills, Okpara blocked two shots within the first two scarlet team possessions as he spent the majority of the evening guarding Key in the paint. Okpara made things tough for Key, who has 35 pounds on Okpara despite giving up three inches of height, on a couple of post-up misses as well.
Nice play by Bruce Thornton to set up Zed Key down low, but Felix Okpara makes the block pic.twitter.com/hmU7lcOxK7— Griffin Strom (@GriffinStrom3) October 10, 2022
During the Buckeyes’ six-minute scrimmage, Okpara was called for a goaltend on a Thornton dribble drive, but made his most impressive block of the night on an attempt from Brown in the paint later on, sending the shot back in the other direction with authority.
Okpara looked more raw on offense, but that's long been the area he's known he must improve over the course of his Buckeye career.
Likekele plays some center
The Oklahoma State transfer spent most of practice engaged with Thornton as point guards on opposite sides, but perhaps even more interesting was Ohio State’s decision to let Likekele play center for one stretch of its six-minute scrimmage.
When Okpara subbed out for Etzler, it was Likekele – listed at 6-foot-5, 215 pounds – that guarded Key in the paint instead of the 6-foot-8 redshirt freshman. On offense, Likekele also posted up on the high block during one sequence in particular, but his shot attempt rimmed out.
Likekele played multiple positions over the years at Oklahoma State, and his versatility allowed the Ohio State coaching staff to bring him in as a transfer in place of a bigger piece. Monday’s practice confirmed Likekele can not only run point when Thornton’s not on the floor, but also match up with forwards – and potentially smaller centers – if called upon to do so in his first season in scarlet and gray.
Freshmen (mostly) quiet
Ohio State’s highly touted freshmen had some moments during Ohio State practice. Okpara’s aforementioned defensive exports stood out on the hardwood, and Thornton made several nice plays as both an attacker at the rim, a competent outside shooter and a distributor of the ball.
Thornton knifes inside and feeds Key for a dunk pic.twitter.com/Nrv5kux31A— Griffin Strom (@GriffinStrom3) October 10, 2022
Overall, though, no Buckeye freshman truly made a statement as undoubtedly a top dog on the Ohio State roster.
Okpara’s defensive prowess was balanced out by limited success on offense, and Gayle and Sensabaugh – while both hit a shot or two in scrimmage play – didn’t stand out as leading scoring option for the Buckeyes.
Holtmann expects all four of those freshmen to make an impact for Ohio State this season, but Monday showed the first-year Buckeyes could still need some time to grow into consistent roles when the season begins.