COLUMBUS — Ohio State raced out to a 22-0 lead and never looked back as they cruised to a 94-67 victory over Illinois State in their season opener on Wednesday afternoon in the Schottenstein Center.
Justice Sueing led all scorers with 19 points in the game, his first since transferring to Ohio State from Cal ahead of last season. E.J. Liddell added 16 points for the Buckeyes, while Duane Washington Jr. and freshman Zed Key each added 12 points.
Antonio Reeves scored a team-high 17 points for Illinois State, who was held to just 38% shooting while committing 16 turnovers.
Despite an empty arena, Chris Holtmann’s guys weren’t short on energy as they opened the 2020-21 season. Liddell dunked on Ohio State’s first possession as the Buckeye bench roared in approval, and he followed that up with a three-point play on the next possession for a quick five points and an early 5-0 lead.
That energy extended to the defensive end for the Buckeyes as well as Illinois State struggled mightily early on, going scoreless over their first five possessions. A made jumper and three-pointer by Sueing pushed the Ohio State lead to 10-0 with 17:32 remaining in the first half, and Washington Jr. added a triple of his own to add to the lead.
The offensive woes would only get worse for Illinois State as their first points of the contest continued to be elusive. An 0-5 start grew to 0-9 as the Redbirds simply couldn’t get a shot to drop. In the meantime, Ohio State continued to increase its lead with seemingly everyone getting in on the scoring.
Key, the first player off the bench for Holtmann, connected on a pair of free throws for the first points of his college career, and he added his first field goal on a dunk two possessions later as the Buckeyes’ lead grew to 19-0.
Not to be outdone, fellow freshman Gene Brown III joined the fun by drilling a corner three to record his first points as a Buckeye, adding to Ohio State’s sizable lead.
Illinois State finally ended the drought with 13:36 remaining in the first half as Dedric Boyd made one of two free throws to get the Redbirds on the board. A made jumper by Howard Fleming Jr. on their next possession gave the Redbirds their first field goal of the game, monetarily cutting into the Ohio State lead at 22-3 as the game entered the under-12 media timeout.
A pair of free throws and a made jumper out of the timeout had Illinois State within 15 points at 22-7, but that’s as close as the Redbirds would get. C.J. Walker’s layup and a five-point spurt from Sueing forced Redbirds head coach Dan Muller to call a timeout as the Ohio State lead was pushed to 31-9 with 8:13 to play in the half.
The Buckeyes would go cold over the final 2:30 of the first half, and a 7-0 closing run from Illinois State left Holtmann less than pleased with his team as they headed to the locker room with a 42-25 lead.
Ohio State shot 47% in the first half while holding Illinois State to just 37% from the floor and forcing the Redbirds into 10 turnovers.
The lead would grow quickly for Ohio State to begin the second half as they opened on a 12-5 run keyed by a pair of layups from Walker. A pair of three-pointers by Justin Ahrens near the midway mark of the second half increased the Buckeyes’ lead to 29 points, their largest lead of the game.
Ohio State’s lead would grow to as many as 37 points over the final minutes as Holtmann substituted freely and the Buckeyes put the finishing touches on the win.
Following the game, Holtmann said of his team’s performance, “It was a good first start for our guys. Obviously, (Illinois State) came out and missed a few shots they’ve probably (usually) made … Really proud of our guys’ effort overall. We had really good energy and the guys were ready to play. They were anxious and ready to play.”
Holtmann said he was very grateful the game was even played, given the pandemic, and even more excited he was able to play as many guys as he did throughout the game. As for Sueing, Holtmann called the junior “versatile” in how many ways he can attack offensively, and he added that Sueing played just as well as he’s been playing in scrimmages leading up to the season.
Sueing and the Buckeyes will return to the floor on Sunday when they take on UMass Lowell in Value City Arena. Tip-off is set for 4 p.m.