Three Takeaways from Ohio State’s road win over Cincinnati

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Cincinnati and Ohio State renewed a dormant in-state rivalry on Wednesday night with the Buckeyes claiming the 64-56 win in the season opener for both teams. The all-Ohio matchup marked the first time these two programs played in the regular season since 1920 as the Bearcats opened their newly-renovated Fifth Third Arena with a rock fight.

Here are three takeaways from this one.

1. Balance is the key for Ohio State’s offense 

Last season saw Ohio State rely heavily on Big Ten Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop. One of the breakout performers in all of college hoops a year ago, Bates-Diop moved on to the NBA after putting up 19.8 points per game.

So, for this season, Ohio State has to reconfigure its offense by coming with a balanced approach. That seemed to work well enough for the Buckeyes against Cincinnati on Wednesday. Working the ball inside to sophomore Kaleb Wesson (15 points, seven rebounds) and letting him go to work, the 6-foot-9 wide-bodied big man patiently went to work, or kicked the ball out to open cutters or shooters. At 270 pounds, Wesson is a tough one-on-one cover for nearly anyone in college basketball on the interior and his passing ability is solid.

That led to a lot of decent looks for Ohio State’s offense as four players finished in double-figures. Senior point guard C.J. Jackson (13 points) didn’t have his finest game on offense, but he made some key drives down the stretch to force pressure on an aggressive Cincinnati defense — including a dagger lay-up to make it a six-point game with 30 seconds left. Freshman Luther Muhammad, known more for his on-ball defensive prowess than his offense, chipped in 11 points as he made some tough buckets in the second half. And sophomore forward Kyle Young played a key glue-guy role as his ability to hit the offensive glass, or get fouled, led to him finishing with 10 points.

Ohio State doesn’t have a go-to player. Nobody on this roster is going to erupt for huge scoring games. But as long as the Buckeyes understand that the offense needs to run through Wesson on the inside then they have a lot of dangerous complementary pieces who can make opposing defenses pay.

2. Cincinnati desperately needs to find an offensive identity

The backbone of Cincinnati’s program identity has always been rugged defense and physicality. This season will be no different. But the reason Cincinnati was able to elevate into a 30-win team and a No. 2 seed in last season’s NCAA tournament was an improved offense with plenty of capable options.

Now that Jacob Evans, Gary Clark and Kyle Washington have all moved on, however, the Cincinnati offense desperately needs to find a new identity. Or, at the very least, a consistent spark plug who can become a go-to player at the end of the shot clock.

The first half saw Cincinnati shoot an ugly 4-for-29 (13 percent) from the field and 2-for-12 (16 percent) from three-point range as a disjointed half-court offense didn’t show any semblance of continuity. While Cincinnati could go inside-out to Clark and Washington a season ago, they didn’t work nearly hard enough to work the ball inside to new frontcourt starters Nysier Brooks (seven points) and Tre Scott (eight points).

Second-half offense wasn’t much better for the Bearcats, as they continually abandoned post touches in favor of long, contested jumpers and early-shot-clock threes. Much of this falls on a veteran Cincinnati backcourt that played inexcusably bad. Senior guards Justin Jenifer (five points, five assists) and Cane Broome (five points) combined to shoot 3-for-18 from the floor on Wednesday night as neither guard did an effective job of scoring or running an offense.

A solid complimentary double-figure scorer a season ago, junior wing Jarron Cumberland (22 points, all in the second half) struggled to create his own offense until a run in the second half as he was harassed by Buckeye defenders. Battling foul trouble in the first half that might have thrown him off, Cumberland finally started to get hot towards the end of the game when he was allowed to be the natural catch-and-shoot option that he needs to be. Cumberland’s not a guy who can blow by defenders by putting it on the floor. He ideally needs a setup guy to be at his best.

Cincinnati showed that its defense and toughness is still there. But the team’s offense is still a gigantic work-in-progress. Improvement starts with the upperclass perimeter group that needs to force the ball inside more often to help establish more rhythm in the half-court offense. That should lead to a lot more consistent open looks for Cumberland on catch-and-shoot opportunities.

3. Ohio State will be an intriguing team in a wide-open Big Ten

The Big Ten race appears to be wide open this season as there isn’t a perceived dominant team heading into 2018-19. Michigan State, Michigan, Indiana and Purdue all have a chance to be consistent top-25 teams. None of them are overwhelming on paper though. Second-tier Big Ten teams (based on preseason hype) like Maryland, Wisconsin, Iowa and Penn State all have major question marks heading into the season.

At least we now know that Ohio State won’t be an easy out for any team in the Big Ten this season.

The Buckeyes just scored the early-season’s most impressive true road victory by going into a hostile in-state environment and taking Cincinnati’s best punch when the Bearcats rallied late in the second half. This is the type of early-season road win that should give Ohio State a ton of confidence, as they’re a young team playing with a lot of new pieces.

While Ohio State will still have plenty of ups-and-downs like any young team, it remains a fact that Chris Holtmann is one of the very best coaches in college basketball. This Buckeye team should be prepared to play on most nights this season. It’ll be fascinating to see what their eventual ceiling might be once they start to get comfortable playing with each other.

No. 7 Tennessee beats Eastern Kentucky, win streak hits 7

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tyreke Key scored 10 of the first 12 points of the second half and finished with 17, and No. 7 Tennessee overcame a sluggish first half and beat Eastern Kentucky 84-49 on Wednesday night.

“Tyreke is handling the ball now,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “That’s all new to him. He keeps getting better.”

The Volunteers (8-1) struggled in the first half but still built an 11-point lead over Eastern Kentucky (4-5) on the way to their seventh straight victory.

Key led Tennessee in scoring before leaving with a cramp in his right leg with 6:15 left in the game. Julian Phillips had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Zakai Zeigler and Uros Plavsic added 13 points apiece. Olivier Nkamhoua scored 10.

“I’m still settling in,” said Key, a transfer from Indiana State who didn’t play last year while recovering from an injury. “This is a new role. I’m taking steps every day and keep learning.”

Eastern Kentucky, which came into the game averaging 83.5 points, was held well below that total due to 17% (6 for 35) shooting from long range and 22% (15 for 68) overall. Leland Walker led the Colonels with 13 points.

It was the seventh time this season Tennessee has held its opponent to 50 or fewer points.

“(Tennessee) is the best defensive team in the country,” Eastern Kentucky coach A.W. Hamilton said. “I think they’re the best team in the country.”

At one point in the first half, Tennessee was shooting 20% and still leading by 10 points. The teams combined to shoot 4 of 32 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes. The Vols, who shot 24% (8 of 34), led 32-21 at the break.

“If we can’t make shots, can you find a way to win the game?” Barnes said. “When the shot’s not going in, find a way to play. The first thing we talk about is our defense.”

Tennessee shot 41 free throws. Phillips, a true freshman, was 7 of 10.

“(Phillips) has learned the pace of the game,” Barnes said. “I’m not sure there’s been a more effective freshman in the country (this season).”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Since its early season slip against Colorado, Tennessee has had a steady ascent in the rankings. The Vols’ next two games – neutral site (Brooklyn) against No, 13 Maryland (Dec. 11) and at No. 10 Arizona (Dec. 17) – will go a long way toward justifying the No. 7 ranking.

BIG PICTURE

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels’ run-and-gun style of offense had them averaging 83.5 points through their first eight games. They ran into a defensive buzz saw in Tennessee, which was yielding just over 51 points.

Tennessee: Santiago Vescovi sat out his second straight game with a shoulder problem. He is expected to be ready to play Sunday against Maryland. . The Vols have won seven in a row since their loss to Colorado.

UP NEXT

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels host Boyce College on Saturday.

Tennessee: Take on No. 13 Maryland on Sunday at the Hall of Fame Invitational in New York.

Hoggard scores career-high 23, Michigan St snaps 2-game skid

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A.J. Hoggard scored a career-high 23 points, Joey Hauser had 12 points and 15 rebounds and Michigan State beat Penn State 67-58 on Wednesday night to snap a two-game losing streak.

Michigan State (6-4, 1-1 Big Ten) avoided going .500 or worse after 10 games for the first time in 18 seasons.

Hoggard blocked an open layup with less than a minute to play and Hauser grabbed the rebound before being fouled and making two free throws at the other end for a 66-58 lead.

Hoggard, Hauser and Tyson Walker combined for 31 of Michigan State’s 32 second-half points.

The Michigan State defense allowed only one made field goal in the final five minutes. Penn State was just 1 of 9 from 3-point range in the second half after 7 of 18 before halftime.

Walker scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half for Michigan State. Hoggard, who entered third in the conference in assists at 6.3, had six rebounds, two assists and one key block.

Hoggard gave Michigan State 35-33 lead – its first since 4-2 – after back-to-back three-point plays with 59.3 seconds left in the first half. It was tied at 35-all at the break.

Seth Lundy scored 16 points and Jalen Pickett had 13 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists for Penn State (6-3, 0-1)

Michigan State hosts Brown on Saturday. Penn State, which hadn’t played since a double-overtime loss to Clemson on Nov. 29, plays at No. 17 Illinois on Saturday.

No. 7 Virginia Tech posts 9th straight win, beats BC 73-58

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BOSTON — Reigning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Elizabeth Kitley had 22 points and 12 rebounds, and Cayla King scored 16 on Wednesday night to lead No. 7 Virginia Tech to a 73-58 victory over Boston College, the Hokies’ ninth straight win.

Taylor Soule, one of two BC transfers on the roster for Virginia Tech (9-0, 1-0 ACC), added nine points and five rebounds. Soule scored more than 1,500 points and grabbed almost 700 rebounds in four seasons at BC, earning All-ACC honors three times.

Andrea Daley scored 15 points and Maria Gakdeng scored 14 for BC (7-4, 0-1). They each grabbed six rebounds.

Virginia Tech scored 17 of the game’s first 21 points and led by as many as 19 in the third quarter before BC cut the deficit to 10 in the fourth. Leading 64-54 with under three minutes left and the shot clock expiring, Kayana Traylor hit a 3-pointer for the Hokies.

Gakdeng missed two free throws for BC, and then Kitley scored from inside to make it a 15-point game.

Clara Ford, who also played four years in Chestnut Hill, pitched in 2 points in 2 minutes against her former team.

BIG PICTURE

At No. 7, the Hokies have the highest ranking in the program’s history. With the victory over BC, a 10th straight win against North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday would leave Virginia Tech in position to move up even higher should a top five team falter.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech: Hosts North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday.

Boston College: Hosts Albany on Saturday.

Michigan’s Jaelin Llewellyn out for season with knee injury

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan point guard Jaelin Llewellyn is out for the rest of the season with an injured left knee and is expected to have surgery next month.

Wolverines coach Juwan Howard made the announcement three days after Llewellyn was hurt in a loss to Kentucky in London.

Llewellyn transferred to Michigan from Princeton last spring and that seemed to lead to Frankie Collins transferring to Arizona State after a solid freshman season for the Wolverines.

Llewellyn averaged seven points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in eight games at Michigan. He was an All-Ivy League player last season and averaged nearly 16 points over three seasons at Princeton.

Miles Kelly leads Georgia Tech to 79-77 win over rival Georgia

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 02 Northeastern at Georgia Tech
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ATLANTA – Georgia Tech’s Miles Kelly hit another winning shot against a state rival.

Terry Roberts endured a nightmarish final minute for Georgia.

Kelly hit a long 3-pointer and then a drove for the game-winning floater with 23 seconds remaining as the Yellow Jackets rallied to beat Georgia 79-77 on Tuesday night.

Kelly hit the winning shot in similar fashion against Georgia State on Nov. 12. He did it again to beat the Bulldogs, finishing with a team-high 17 points after failing to score in the first half.

“I’m going to continue to keep shooting, no matter how many times I miss,” Kelly said.

Roberts missed a 3-pointer, turned the ball over twice with bad passes, and was called for an offensive foul as he was trying to drive for the basket that would’ve sent the game to overtime.

“A tough finish for us,” Georgia first-year coach Mike White said. “We were in position to steal one on the road.”

A pair of second-chance buckets seemingly put Georgia (7-3) in control with a 77-73 lead.

The Bulldogs wouldn’t score again as Kelly led the comeback for the Yellow Jackets (6-3) – with a big assist from Roberts.

He had a chance to essentially seal it for the Bulldogs, but his jumper beyond the arc clanked off the rim.

Georgia Tech grabbed the rebound and raced down the court, where Kelly swished a 3 from well behind the stripe that brought Georgia Tech within a point with about a minute left.

Trying to work the ball inside, Roberts made an ill-advised entry pass that was deflected and stolen by Deivon Smith, setting up Kelly’s drive for the basket that put the Yellow Jackets back ahead,

Roberts tried a drive of his own, only to have it blocked by Jalon Moore. Georgia retained possession, but Roberts’ inbounds pass was stolen by Moore, who was fouled and made one of two free throws.

Roberts took the ball again and hurriedly dribbled toward the basket, only to be called for an offensive foul when he sent Smith flying.

“Just sacrificing my body for the team,” Smith said.

Georgia stole an inbounds pass around midcourt, giving Karlo Oquendo one last shot to launch a 3 that still would’ve won it for the Bulldogs. It bounced off the rim.

The game was tight throughout. Neither team led by more than eight, and a sequence in the second half showed just how tightly these rivals were matched.

With both squads playing at a frenetic pace and showing little regard for defense, the lead changed hands on eight straight possessions as the teams traded baskets.

Stunningly, they combined to score on 19 straight possessions before Georgia’s Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe missed a pair of free throws with 5:17 remaining.

FIRING UP THE CROWD

Perhaps the biggest cheer of the night came when Georgia Tech football coach Brent Key addressed the crowd at halftime.

Key, who served as interim coach for the last eight games of the season, was introduced Monday as the full-time choice for job.

He fired up the fans by getting them to chant “To hell with Georgia” over and over again. When a smattering of Bulldogs fans responded with barks, Key smiled and egged on the Yellow Jackets crowd to drown them out.

He also declared Georgia Tech to be the “greatest school in the entire state, the entire country,” following up his vow the previous day to not back down from the defending national champion and top-ranked Bulldogs.

BIG PICTURE

Georgia: This will be a tough one to swallow for Roberts, who led his team with 16 points and seven assists. The Bulldogs lost despite shooting 53.4% from the field.

Georgia Tech: Four players scored in double figures, and two others players finished with eight points. But it was Kelly, as usual, who had the ball in his hands at the end of a tight game.

UP NEXT

Georgia: After a nearly two-week break, the Bulldogs return to Atlanta on Dec. 18 to face Notre Dame at State Farm Arena in the Holiday Hoopsgiving event.

Georgia Tech: Head to North Carolina on Saturday for the Atlantic Coast Conference opener against the struggling Tar Heels.