Not since a flurry of victories to close the 2018-19 regular season has Indiana won three consecutive Big Ten games. The program’s latest opportunity to do so won’t be easy.
After beating Iowa and Northwestern to start the week, the Hoosiers are headed to Columbus for a Saturday matinee matchup with No. 4 Ohio State.
No team in the country has more Quad I wins than the Buckeyes’ eight this season, a product of Ohio State’s mostly-smooth ride through the Big Ten this season. Chris Holtmann’s crew can’t figure out Purdue, and Minnesota and Northwestern tripped them up, too. But otherwise? Holtmann and company have largely cruised, picking up wins in eight of their past nine games. Speaking of Holtmann, he’s won five of the six meetings with Archie Miller’s Hoosiers since the two coaches took their respective jobs prior to the 2017-18 season.
It doesn’t seem that anyone saw this kind of success coming this season for the Buckeyes, who lost Kaleb Wesson, Andre Wesson, Luther Muhammad, Alonzo Gaffney and DJ Carton. In The Athletic’s official unofficial preseason Big Ten media poll, the Buckeyes were picked to finish seventh in the league — one spot ahead of IU. Now, they’re pushing for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Maybe even a Big Ten title, too.
In conference play, Ohio State ranks second in the league in efficiency, second in free throw percentage (76.5%), third in 2-point percentage (53.6%) and fourth in 3-point percentage (35.2%). Defensively, the Buckeyes rank ninth in efficiency, third in opponent 3-point percentage (30.9%) and fourth in opponent effective field goal percentage (48.3%).
Sophomore EJ Liddell has been the Buckeyes’ stud so far, averaging 14.9 points and 6.8 rebounds. The 6-foot-7, 240-pound forward had a quiet, seven-point outing at Maryland on Monday, but he had been averaging 19.5 points over the four games leading into that matchup against the Terps. Liddell has had 28 career games with five or more rebounds, and the Buckeyes are 24-4 in those contests.
Junior guard Duane Washington ranks second on the team with 14.8 points per game, and he’s enjoyed five games this season with at least 20 points. In shooting 36% from beyond the arc, Washington has made at least one 3-pointer in all 20 games this season and in 24 consecutive contests overall.
Senior forward Kyle Young is coming off a career-high 18-point effort at Maryland, which followed a 16-point performance at Iowa. He’s shooting 61 percent inside the arc this season, and he’s not merely relying on layups. On mid-to-long 2-pointers, Young’s shooting rate is 57%.
Junior guard Justin Ahrens is giving Ohio State a heavy dose of deep shots, shooting 48% from long range this season. Ahrens has enjoyed 13 games with multiple makes, and he’s hit two or more 3s in each of the last eight games. Forward Justice Sueing, a junior transfer from Cal, is averaging 10.4 points and 5.6 rebounds.
Things to watch
I know, I know. I’m tired of talking about them, too. IU did what it needed to do at the line down the stretch at Northwestern on Wednesday, seemingly the first time this season that’s been the case. But the freebies will be even more important against an Ohio State team that is making 76.5% of its free throws in conference games. Washington and CJ Walker have combined to make 91.8% of their attempts this season.
There’s only one glaring hole — and even that might be a bit hyperbolic — on Ohio State’s team sheet. The Buckeyes don’t force teams into many mistakes, with conference opponents posting a turnover rate of just 13.8%. That’s the lowest in the league. So it’ll be up to the Hoosiers to make sure their offensive game is as clean as it can be. Though it was sloppy early (Editor’s note: that’s certainly one way to put it lol), IU had only one turnover in the final 20:39 of Wednesday’s game at Northwestern.
Indiana’s top two options at point guard, Rob Phinisee and Khristian Lander, went a combined 0-for-8 from the floor with just two points against the Wildcats, while Trayce Jackson-Davis posted one of the more underwhelming double-doubles we can remember. Jackson-Davis will have to be great for IU to steal a road win in Columbus. As for point guard, it’s anyone’s guess what kind of production IU will get at that spot from game to game.
Game Info / How to Watch
Who? Indiana (11-8, 6-6) at No. 4 Ohio State (16-5, 10-4)
Where? Value City Arena, Columbus, Ohio
When? Saturday, Noon Eastern
Channel? ESPN | Dan Shulman (p-b-p), Jay Bilas (analyst)
Radio? IU Radio Network; Sirius 106, XM 196, Internet 958: Don Fischer, Errek Suhr & Joe Smith
Vegas? Ohio State -7