No. 23 Ohio State gets last tuneup against Alabama A&M

Ohio State hosts Alabama A&M in Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday before entering the beefier part of its nonconference schedule.

The No. 23 Buckeyes (3-0) easily defeated Illinois State 94-67 on Nov. 25, struggled against UMass Lowell 74-64 on Sunday and pulled away with their best effort of the season in a 77-44 win over Morehead State on Wednesday.

“This was a definite improvement from the other night,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said after the team’s most recent outing. “That was good to see. I thought we played more connected on both ends.

“It was a good win. Most important, there was some improvement in some areas we had worked on the last couple of days. It was good to see us make some strides in some areas. I thought we shared the ball and moved it better than we had. We played through the paint and the post better.”

He’ll look for even more development against Alabama A&M (1-0) because the Buckeyes will step up a level in competition Tuesday when they play at Notre Dame in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

Unfortunately for Alabama A&M, the Bulldogs haven’t played as many games as Ohio State and thus are still looking for cohesiveness. They defeated Samford 78-76 on Sunday in their season opener.

“Huge win for us, especially with it being the first game of the year and on the road,” Alabama A&M head coach Dylan Howard said.

He was named interim coach during the 2018-19 season and has since been trying to upgrade the program. He has six freshmen and five sophomores among the 15 players on the roster.

“Our newcomers are meshing well with our returners so far, it is very early in the process, but I like where we are chemistry-wise going forward,” Howard said. “When we recruited all of these guys, our goal was to find players that love the game, the ones that will get in the gym and get better, and now we have consecutive classes we feel that fit that mold.”

Garrett Hicks, who had 18 points and eight rebounds against Samford, likes the direction the team is taking.

“We have some great talented freshmen coming in this year to help us out a little bit,” he said. “Last year we were a bit inexperienced, trying to get our feet under us.”

The Bulldogs will be pressed to stick with the Buckeyes, who ended the Morehead State game on a 19-2 run and may have found their outside shooting touch.

Ohio State sank 10 3-pointers, five in the final six minutes, to match their total from the first two games.

“I just felt like we needed to come out and compete,” said Ohio State forward E.J. Liddell, who led the Buckeyes with 16 points. “We didn’t compete at our highest level Sunday. This was a good bounce-back game to come out and show what we could do.”

Holtmann knows what needs fixing against the Bulldogs.

“We still wasted a lot of possessions offensively,” he said. “We saw some zone. We still weren’t great at attacking it.”

–Field Level Media