COLUMBUS — Few things came easy for Ohio State against Cleveland State on Sunday afternoon as the Buckeyes were forced to grind their way to a 67-61 win over the Vikings, moving to 5-0 on the season.
Duane Washington Jr. and C.J. Walker combined for 33 points to lead the Buckeyes, and freshman Zed Key turned in the first double-double of his career with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
D’moi Hodge paced Cleveland State with 14 points, and Chris Greene added 12 for the Vikings, who now fall to 0-3 on the season.
Sunday’s game marked the first for Ohio State without E.J. Liddell, who is out indefinitely with an undisclosed but non-COVID illness, Ohio State announced earlier in the week. Looking to adjust on the fly, the results weren’t always pretty for the Buckeyes.
Washington Jr. had Ohio State off and running early with three-pointers on two of the Buckeyes’ first three possessions, giving them an early 6-0 lead over Cleveland State. But the offense would quickly dry up for the Buckeyes as they struggled for much of the first half to hang on to the basketball or generate quality shots.
After going nearly five minutes without points to begin the game, Cleveland State finally got on the board with a pair of free throws from Deante Johnson to cut Ohio State’s lead to 6-2. Following a made jumper from Ohio State’s Justice Sueing, a layup and three-pointer from Hodge had the Vikings within a point at 8-7 nearly seven minutes into the game.
The two teams traded points and plenty more empty possessions over the remaining 13 minutes of the half as Ohio State’s lead hovered around six points over the Vikings.
C.J. Walker’s layup, with the made free throw on the three-point opportunity, gave Ohio State their largest lead of the first half at 31-24 with just under two minutes to play in the opening period. The Buckeyes were unable to expand the lead over the final 90 seconds, however, taking a seven-point lead into the locker room.
Ohio State was just 10 of 26 from the field in the first half and 0-9 from three following Washington’s two makes to begin the game. An equally poor offensive performance from Cleveland State, who shot just 35 percent in the half, was the only saving grace for the Buckeyes’ stagnant offense over the opening 20 minutes.
The offensive pace picked up for both teams in the second half. Buckets from Sueing and Washington Jr. on the Buckeyes’ first two possessions gave Ohio State their first double-digit lead of the game at 35-24, but the comfortable lead would be short-lived as Cleveland State continued to fight back.
The Vikings responded with a jumper from Craig Beaudion and two free throws from Alec Oglesby to cut the Ohio State lead to seven with 15:45 remaining in the second half. Two minutes later, a five-point spurt by Greene brought them to within a point of Ohio State as the clock ticked under 14 minutes.
Following a turnover by Walker on the next possession, Cleveland State threatened to take their first lead of the game, but Torrey Patton’s missed layup led to a made three-pointer by Ohio State’s Justin Ahrens, pushing the Buckeyes’ lead to four points with 13:21 to play in the game.
A layup from Patton once again got the Vikings to within a possession of taking the lead, but Ohio State quickly answered with two more three-pointers from Walker and Jimmy Sotos to stretch their lead to 47-39 with 8:49 left to play.
Still, Cleveland State refused to go away. Three-pointers from Hodge, Jayson Woodrich, and Greene continued to keep the Vikings within striking distance of the Buckeyes as the clock ticked under six minutes, and a transition layup by Tre Gomillion brought the Vikings with five points at 60-55 with 2:41 remaining.
That’s as close as Cleveland State would get, though. Key’s layup on the next possession put Ohio State up by seven at the two-minute mark, and four free throws from Washington over the final 30 seconds finally put the game away for the Buckeyes.
Following the game, Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said of the game, “I thought (Cleveland State) really just took it to us, and we have to respond better.”
With much of the talk surrounding college basketball this week being about whether or not the sport should even continue playing amidst the pandemic, Holtmann said is he thankful every time the team is able to get a game played.
“We’re really fortunate to have five games in, and I feel good about being 5-0,” Holtmann said.
Up next for Ohio State is the opening of conference play on Wednesday when they travel to Purdue (4-2) to take on the Boilermakers. Tip-off for the game is 7 p.m. and will be televised on Big Ten Network.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.