COLUMBUS, Ohio – The 2019-20 Ohio State men’s basketball season began following an offseason of optimism after the Buckeyes advanced to the second round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament, the second appearance in as many seasons for Chris Holtmann, head coach of the Buckeyes.
The 2019-20 campaign got underway with a much anticipated home matchup against intrastate rival Cincinnati and over the next two months, the season lived up to the preseason hype.
The Bearcats had not made the trip to Columbus since 1921. The teams opened the season in 2018-19 at UC with the Buckeyes winning 64-56, the same winning score for the Buckeyes in the 2019 meeting at Value City Arena. As expected, both recent games in the series were hard-fought and proved to be significant victories for the Buckeyes’ postseason aspirations.
Key Notes in UC Win
The Buckeyes downed UMass-Lowell, 76-56, behind 13 points and 13 boards from junior Kaleb Wesson before Top 10 foe Villanova traveled to Columbus for a Gavitt Games matchup with the Buckeyes.
Andre Wesson, a starter and Ohio State’s senior leader, suffered an eye injury vs. UMass-Lowell and was not available vs. the Wildcats. The short-handed Buckeyes did not miss a beat, or many shots for that matter, in a dominating 76-51 win over No. 10 Villanova.
Key Notes in Villanova Win
Ohio State then rattled off home wins over Stetson, Purdue Fort Wayne, Kent State and Morgan State before the first road trip of the year, a Top 10 matchup between the No. 6 Buckeyes and the No. 7 North Carolina Tar Heels in Chapel Hill. The game was part of the annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
Ohio State held a slim 29-27 lead at the half before exploding for 45 points over the final 20 minutes to down North Carolina 74-49 in the Dean Smith Center, one of the most lopsided wins for an opponent in the history of the facility.
Sophomore Duane Washington Jr. led all scorers with 18 points while freshman E.J. Liddell provided a glimpse of what’s to come for the talented rookie. He scored 12 points and grabbed five rebounds to go with an assist, one steal and two blocks.
Key Notes in North Carolina Win
Taking a break from non-conference action, Ohio State played host to Penn State in the Big Ten Conference opener for both teams. Following their win over North Carolina, the Buckeyes kept season’s momentum going with an impressive 106-74 win over the Nittany Lions.
The Buckeyes made 14 3-pointers, 12 coming in the second half, to eclipse the century mark. Ohio State scored 60 points in the second half with Kaleb Wesson scoring a season-high 28 points to go with 10 rebounds.
Key Notes in Penn State Win
Heading into a road game at Minnesota with a 9-0 record, the Buckeyes were ranked No. 3 nationally and poised for a chance to go to No. 1. That was not to be however as the Buckeyes learned prior to the game Washington Jr. would not be available with a rib injury.
With Ohio State’s second leading scorer out of the lineup, the Golden Gophers took full advantage to tough out an 84-71 win, handing the Buckeyes the first setback of the season.
Returning to non-conference play, Ohio State handled Southeast Missouri State 80-48 to set up another Top 10 matchup in the non-league portion of the schedule, this time vs. No. 6 Kentucky in Las Vegas as part of the annual CBSSports Challenge.
No. 5 Ohio State battled to a 37-36 lead at the half and relied on freshman guard D.J. Carton in the second half to leave Las Vegas with a 71-65 win over the Wildcats. Carton scored 15 points on 5 of 6 shooting. He also added five rebounds, two assists, two blocks and a steal in the win.
Key Notes in Kentucky Win
The Buckeyes continued their impressive non-conference schedule in the final game of 2019 with a neutral site game vs. West Virginia in Cleveland. The No. 22 Mountaineers ramped up the defense vs. the then No. 2 Buckeyes to win 67-59. Kyle Young further proved his toughness and grit with an 11-rebound effort in 22 minutes of game action. This despite learning after the game he would require surgery for appendicitis.
Again shorthanded with Young recovering from surgery, the Buckeyes embarked on the 2020 portion of the Big Ten Conference schedule, first with visiting Wisconsin at Value City Arena.
The Buckeyes battled but fell to the Badgers 61-57. The loss was the first of five over six games in league play putting Ohio State in a 2-6 hole in conference play.
A trip to Northwestern in the final game of January started a run that helped the Buckeyes battle back in what many conference observers tabbed the deepest and strongest Big Ten roster top-to-bottom in league history.
Following the win in Evanston, Ohio State handled Indiana in Columbus before a trip to Michigan. Kaleb Wesson scored a game-high 23 points to go with 12 rebounds as the Buckeyes made clutch free throws down the stretch to win 61-57.
Next up was another Top 10 battle with No. 7 Maryland traveling to Columbus to face the Buckeyes, who entered the game with a 7-8 league record with league wins in five of the last seven outings.
Ohio State jumped out to a 40-33 lead at the half and played the Terrapins even the rest of the way to win 79-72, giving the Buckeyes their fourth win over a Top 10 foe on the year. Sophomore Luther Muhammad proved to be the difference with 22 points bolstered by a 4 of 8 shooting night from 3-point range and an 8-8 effort at the foul line.
Playing much like it did during non-conference play, Ohio State rattled off three more wins at Nebraska, at home vs. Michigan and then in the final game in Columbus on senior day vs. Illinois to improve to 21-9 and 11-8 in conference play. In the game vs. the Illini, Liddell, an Illinois native, excelled with 17 points and 11 rebounds for his first career double-double.
In what proved to be the final game of the 2019-20 season, the Buckeyes traveled to East Lansing to face Michigan State. The Spartans, celebrating their seniors, took control midway through the second half to win 80-69. The loss put the Buckeyes in a tie for the No. 5 spot in the final Big Ten regular-season standings (21-10, 11-9) with wins in nine of the final 12 games of the league season.
Ohio State was set to start the 2020 Big Ten Tournament at the No. 7 season vs. Purdue, the No. 10 seed. The Buckeyes traveled to Indianapolis for the scheduled game vs. the Boilermakers March 12.
At just before noon on gameday, the 2020 Big Ten Tournament was canceled over concerns involving the spreading of the coronavirus in the United States.
The team boarded team busses for its return to Columbus and while en route learned the 2020 NCAA Tournament also would be canceled, ending the Buckeyes’ 2020 season.
Holtmann’s Buckeyes were poised to make their third-consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance with a resume that included wins over four conference champions in 2020 (Cincinnati, Villanova, Kentucky and Maryland), four wins over Top 10 teams (Villanova, North Carolina, Kentucky and Maryland) and a fifth-place finish in the deepest and most rugged conference nationally – the Big Ten.