Basketball Preview: Ohio State Seeking Revenge Over Interior-Oriented Indiana Squad

By Andy Anders on February 6, 2024 at 8:35 am
Evan Mahaffey vs. Trey Galloway in Ohio State’s first matchup with Indiana
Robert Goddin – USA TODAY Sports

More than a month has passed since Ohio State beat Rutgers on Jan. 3. In that timespan, the Buckeyes have played eight more Big Ten conference games and lost seven of them.

13 - 9
Value City Arena
Columbus, OH

The first of those seven losses came on the road against Indiana on Jan. 6, but now the Hoosiers present the Buckeyes with their best shot at a win since they beat Penn State on Jan. 20.

Of the four teams on Ohio State’s current four-game losing streak, the worst overall record belongs to Iowa, who is 13-9 after beating the Buckeyes in Iowa City on Friday.

Indiana enters Tuesday with its own 13-9 mark, but it’s the fact that the Buckeyes are at home that gives them a leg up. After all, it’s been more than 400 days since they won a true road game, with 15 straight road losses.

There aren’t a lot of people outside the program clinging to the hope of an NCAA Tournament bid for this Ohio State squad, but what would be a Quadrant 3 loss certainly isn’t something the Buckeyes can afford at this juncture.

Chris Holtmann isn’t letting those thoughts enter his head, saying he’s just focused on getting his team ready for the Hoosiers.

“There’s no point in focusing on anything other than preparation for practice today and the game tomorrow,” Holtmann said on Monday. “That’s my job. That’s our coaching staff’s job. That’s all that matters right now, is how do we do that and how do we do today’s practice as well as we can and prepare them as well as we can for Indiana? That’s not coach speak. It’s not anything else other than honesty.”

Need to Know

Interior Oriented

Only seven teams across the country attempt fewer three-pointers per game than Indiana’s 15.6. The Hoosiers’ plodding pace ensures they only take 55.8 field goals per game altogether, 52nd-fewest in the nation, but only 27.9% of the shots they do take are from beyond the arc. For reference, 36.4% of Ohio State’s shots are from distance, and the Buckeyes are only 208th nationally in three-point attempts per game.

Super size

Perhaps part of the reason that Indiana takes so few three-pointers is the length that permeates its lineup. Three of the Hoosiers’ starters stand 6-8 or taller, and those three players – Kel’el Ware, Malik Reneau and Mackenzie Mgbako – are the team’s top three scorers.

Coldest of the cold in previous meeting

Ohio State shot 28.2% in the second half against Indiana when the Buckeyes and Hoosiers played in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in early January, falling 71-65 after leading by two points entering the final 10 minutes of play. The team’s star guard tandem of Bruce Thornton and Roddy Gayle Jr. went a combined 7-of-34 (20.6%) from the field for the game and 0-for-12 from three.

“Some of those were good looks, really good looks, and then some of those we could have just had better, more effective offense,” Holtmann said. “Some of them were really good looks that we just missed and some of them I think we’ve just gotta play through the paint a little bit better than what we did.”

Three Important Buckeyes

Felix Okpara

In yet another Big Ten game where interior defense will be paramount, Ohio State’s shot-altering 6-foot-11 center will play a pivotal role. Okpara was having a great all-around night at Iowa with 14 points, two blocks and two steals before a costly double-dribble late in the game.

“Felix played a really good game and he just made an error that, sometimes, players make,” Holtmann said.

Devin Royal

Royal tied his season-high with 17 minutes against Iowa as a bigger wing option in the absence of an injured Scotty Middleton. With nine points and three rebounds, he played well enough to take some floor time away from senior forward Zed Key, who played just three minutes against the Hawkeyes.

“He’s had a great approach here, really, for a month and a half in practice,” Holtmann said of Royal. “He’s learning how to guard different positions, that’s been the biggest challenge, as it is for every freshman. ... He’s been committed to getting better in that area and now he’s playing with confidence and we’ve been able to find some spots for him to find some success offensively.”

Jamison Battle

A big part of coming out victorious against the Hoosiers is righting the shooting wrongs of the last time the Buckeyes played them. Battle continues to be the Buckeyes’ best threat from outside, still leading the Big Ten in made three-pointers (63) and three-point shooting percentage (45%).

Three Notable Hoosiers

Malik Reneau

Projected Starting Lineup
No. Player Position Height Weight 2023-24 Stats
2 Gabe Cupps G 6-2 175 2.8 PPG, 1.4 APG
32 Trey Galloway G 6-5 205 10.5 PPG, 3.9 APG
21 Mackenzie Mgbako F 6-8 217 11.0 PPG, 4.2 RPG
5 Malik Reneau F 6-9 233 16.0 PPG, 5.8 RPG
1 Kel'el Ware C 7-0 242 15.3 PPG, 9.5 RPG

Reneau paces Indiana with 16 points per game, boosting that average with 23 points on 10-of-16 shooting in the first meeting between the Hoosiers and Buckeyes. He’s shooting 58% from the field on the year, the best among the team’s qualified shooters.

Kel’el Ware

Indiana’s second-leading scorer with 15.3 points per game, Ware adds team-highs in rebounds (9.5 per game) and blocked shots (1.6 per contest). The 7-foot center has scored a combined 48 points in the Crimson and Cream’s last two games with 25 against Penn State and 23 against Iowa.

Gabe Cupps

One of the players who hurt Ohio State most when it played Indiana earlier this year was guard Xavier Johnson, a sixth-year senior who racked up 18 points. Johnson is likely to be out with an elbow injury and Cupps is starting in his place. Indiana is looking for more production from its freshman, who has averaged just 2.8 points in 21.8 minutes per game.

How It Plays Out

Line: Ohio State -6, O/U 145

Indiana is just 1-4 in road games this season, and given how Ohio State kept things close in one of its worst shooting performances of the season last time, I expect the Buckeyes to finally get back on the winning side of things. Perhaps it will finally be a chance to build some momentum with another winnable home game against Maryland on tap for Saturday.

Prediction: Ohio State 74, Indiana 69

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