Thursday night's loss at Xavier was particularly frustrating for Chris Holtmann and the Buckeyes because they didn't appear to be the tougher team. That's something they take a great deal of pride in, and rarely are they defeated because their opponent played harder.
Perhaps that's what made Monday evening's tango with Seton Hall that much sweeter. After falling out of the AP Top 25 following Thursday's loss, Ohio State responded by beating a 21st-ranked Seton Hall team, thanks to Meechie Johnson's game-winning 3-pointer.
E.J. Liddell led the Buckeyes to a 79-76 win on Monday night in the first game of the Rocket Mortgage Fort Myers Tip-off, nearly scoring a career-high as he finished with 28 points. Justin Ahrens also had a great night, connecting on five 3's and finishing with 17 points.
The Buckeyes and Pirates hadn't met since they played a home-and-home series in 2002 and 2003, but they are a terrific team and the kind of squad that would certainly test Ohio State's guard play. Seton Hall's defense has been elite so far this year, holding opponents to just 31.4 percent from the floor through its first three games. They are a top-15 defensive team in the nation according to most advanced metrics.
Perhaps that's why Ohio State's 48 percent shooting night was so impressive. Liddell, Ahrens and Kyle Young all finished in double figures and the Scarlet and Gray were above the 50 percent threshold most of the night.
"He's really working on his perimeter defense because that's one of the things the NBA said they wanted him to get better at," Chris Holtmann said of E.J. Liddell after the game. "His commitment to his fitness is his biggest growth area right now ... dude is like me, he likes himself some cookies ... he's taken his diet, his nutrition and his fitness really seriously."
Its early, but Liddell is having himself an All-American caliber season. If he continues to play like this and if the guard play keeps developing around him, this Ohio State team could certainly make a nice run. They've shown considerable growth already in the first four games of the season. Jimmy Sotos in particular played his heart out on Monday night, looking as good as he ever has since transferring to Columbus.
I actually thought the Buckeyes also did a pretty good job defending Pre-season First Team All-Big East senior guard Jared Rhoden, but he really showed why he's such a tough player. Rhoden knocked in a career-high 29, but 11 of them came from the free throw line and he rarely had open looks at the bucket.
One thing Ohio State needs to continue to work on is preventing offensive rebounds. They allowed 14 to Seton Hall on Monday after Xavier grabbed 16 last time out. Tonight was a good step in the right direction in many ways, but that's way too many second chance opportunities they are allowing.
The Buckeyes will play the winner of Cal vs. Florida on Wednesday.
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