Basketball Preview: Ohio State Hosts Eastern Illinois in Final Warmup Before Maui Invitational

By Griffin Strom on November 16, 2022 at 8:35 am
Zed Key
Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch

Ohio State has one more warmup on the docket before heading to Maui for a true test next week.

Eastern Illinois (0–3) Schottenstein Center 7 p.m. BTN

After dominant wins over Robert Morris and Charleston Southern to open the 2022-23 season, the Buckeyes host an 0-3 Eastern Illinois team at 7 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center Wednesday. Ohio State has the 345th-ranked strength of schedule in the country through two games, per KenPom, and Wednesday's contest won’t help boost that figure. The Panthers are sitting at No. 354 in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin, which makes them one of the 10 worst teams in the country.

But during a season in which teams like Syracuse, Louisville and TCU have all dropped buy games against mid-majors, Chris Holtmann has made it a point to emphasize that every game must be taken seriously.

“Getting ready, obviously, for our next game versus Eastern Illinois. Had a chance to watch them quite a bit. They play some common opponents,” Holtmann said Tuesday. “They played really well in their opener versus Illinois, it was competitive for most of the game. Got a really tough, defensive-minded group and particularly in the backcourt. They turn people over at a really high rate, which is – as we mentioned after last game – is something we continue to work on with this group. So looking forward to tomorrow night.”

The Fighting Illini blew the Panthers out by 30 in their season opener, and that’ll be the standard by which Ohio State is measured, at least as far as the oddsmakers are concerned.

In Eastern Illinois’ second game of the season, it suffered a five-point loss to Illinois State, which longtime Ohio State assistant Ryan Pedon now coaches. Holtmann said he spoke to his former right-hand man about the Buckeyes’ opponent, which served as the first team Pedon notched a win over as a college head coach.

The final score shouldn’t be as close in Wednesday night’s matchup as it was for Pedon and company, though, and Holtmann said Ohio State still has plenty of stripes to earn as it finds its identity early in the season.

"I'm certain our guys understand we have a lot to prove, and tomorrow's another opportunity," Holtmann said.

What to Watch For

Bad shooting by Panthers

Frankly, Eastern Illinois displayed one of the worst offenses in the country through three games. KenPom lists the Panthers as the fifth-least efficient team in the nation when it comes to adjusted offense. Eastern Illinois has the 344th-ranked scoring offense in the nation, with 55.3 points per game, and it's knocking down just 33.1% of its field goals (No. 346). From 3-point range, the Panthers’ 22% clip is a little bit better in terms of the national rankings, but not by much as it comes in at No. 336.

Brown still sidelined

Ohio State will be without third-year wing Eugene Brown III for the third straight game to open the season, as the returning upperclassman is still working his way through concussion protocol. The Buckeyes may not need Brown to get a win over Eastern Illinois, but would sure like to have him ready for the Buckeyes’ trip to Maui at the end of the week.

Three Important Buckeyes

Zed Key

The starting Buckeye big man is fresh off one of the best performances of his career, as Key became the first player in three years to have a double-double by halftime of any single game. With 17 points and 13 boards against Charleston Southern, Key joined Buckeye greats Evan Turner, Jared Sullinger and Keita Bates-Diop as the only Ohio State players since 2004 to record double-doubles in back-to-back games to open a season. Against Eastern Illinois, Key should have plenty of opportunity to keep that momentum going in the early non-conference schedule.

Brice Sensabaugh

Two games into the 2022-23 season, true freshman Brice Sensabaugh is the leading scorer (15.5 points per game) for the Buckeyes. That’s an interesting development, given that speculation surrounding who Ohio State’s go-to scorer will be is likely to follow it much further into the year. So far, though, Sensabaugh has shown he has little trouble putting the ball in the net, even if his two big scoring days have come against subpar competition. That won’t change on Wednesday.

Bruce Thornton

Thornton is the only true freshman with a starting role for the Buckeyes through two games, but he hasn’t matched the offensive success of Sensbaugh or Roddy Gayle early on. While Sensabaugh leads the Buckeyes in scoring and Gayle has been successful coming in off the bench to put up eight points per game, Thornton is averaging just 5.5 points and 3.0 assists per game in his first two games. Thornton should only get more comfortable as the season continues, but he certainly hasn’t hit a real groove thus far.

Three Important Panthers

Kinyon Hodges

Player Position Height Weight 2021-22 Stats
YAAKEMA ROSE G 5-9 185 7.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG
KINYON HODGES G 6-2 180 12.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG
CALEB DONALDSON G 6-5 195 4.0 PPG, 1.0 RPG
SINCERE MALONE F 6-8 210 5.0 PPG, 3.0 RPG
NICK ELLINGTON F 6-8 220 3.3 PPG, 4.0 RPG

The lone Panther averaging double-digit points this season, Kinyon Hodges is in his first season at Eastern Illinois after three years at Three Rivers Community College in Missouri. A 6-foot-2 guard, Hodges has put up at least 10 points in three games this season, and 14 apiece against Illinois and Illinois State. Hodges is also knocking down 50% of his 3-point attempts so far this season.

Yaakema Rose

In his fourth stop during year six of his college basketball tenure, Yaakema Rose has been Eastern Illinois’ second-leading scorer with an average of 7.7 points through the first three games. Despite being just 5-foot-9, the Illinois native was one of two Panthers to hit at least 10 points against the Fighting Illini in the season opener. Rose has struggled to shoot the ball consistently, hitting just 35.7% of his shots, and he has yet to knock down a 3-pointer.

Sincere Malone

Eastern Illinois does have some size to throw at Ohio State, with three players standing at least 6-foot-8, and Sincere Malone is the most productive of the bunch thus far. Malone hardly has stellar numbers, but his 5.0 points per game make him the third-leading scorer on the team thus far, despite shooting just 27.8% from the field. Malone cracked the starting lineup for the first time this season in Eastern Illinois’ most recent game and seems likely to do so again versus the Buckeyes.

How It Plays Out

Line: OSU -30, O/U: 132.5

Eastern Illinois doesn’t have nearly enough offense to keep up with an Ohio State team that ranks 18th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, per KenPom. We should see a third straight display of dominance in Columbus on Wednesday.

Prediction: Ohio State 84, Eastern Illinois 55

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