The Musketeers play their biggest game of the season tonight at 6:30 at Cintas Center
By Joe Clark, Sports Editor
When Xavier and Ohio State match up tonight at the Cintas Center, it’ll be in front of a sellout crowd that would love to see Xavier win. Here are the keys to beating the No. 19 Buckeyes.
Limit E.J. Liddell
Liddell, a junior forward, is one of the ten best players in the country, and he’s been on fire to start the season. He’s averaging 22.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game while shooting almost 60%.
“E.J. Liddell is an All-American candidate, one of the best players in the entire country. He’s a matchup problem,” Xavier Head Coach Travis Steele said.
If Liddell has a big game, Ohio State will have a much better chance of coming away with the win. Xavier forward Jerome Hunter will likely be matched up with Liddell, and he’s more than capable of limiting the star. He’s been Xavier’s best defender thus far and has positively impacted the game with his work on defense and on the glass.
Hunter will need to play his best game of the young season against Liddell, but Steele emphasized the need to be connected as a team on the defensive end.
Win the rebound battle
Ohio State is a big, long and athletic team, and if they get a major edge on the glass, it could be a long night for the Musketeers.
Sophomore forward Zed Key is averaging seven rebounds per game, while graduate student Kyle Young is also averaging six boards a game.
OSU also has size with 6’11 graduate student Joey Brunk, a transfer from Butler.
“We cannot get punked on the glass. Liddell is strong, Zed Key is strong. We have to do a great on the glass,” Steele said. If Xavier is able to win the rebound battle or keep it close, it could be a fun night in Norwood.
Xavier’s been inconsistent shooting the ball from the perimeter early on this season, and they’ll have to be better against OSU. Xavier shot 29.6% from three-point range against Niagara and just 20.7% against Kent State. Getting to around the 33% mark would be huge for the Musketeers. Look for senior guard Nate Johnson to break out of his two game shooting slump and have a big night tonight.
Improve ball screen defense
For three out of the four halves Xavier has played this season, they’ve struggled defending against ball screens. In the second half against Kent State, Xavier switched from the hard hedge defense they’ve been known to play.
Instead, the players switched on every screen with sophomore center Dieonte Miles in the game, and when junior center Jack Nunge was in, he went into drop coverage.
The change worked, and Xavier neutralized Kent State’s Sincere Carry. Both Nunge and Miles made some big plays defensively.
Regardless, if Xavier goes back to the hard hedge or continues to switch on every screen, they need to play to the level they did in the second half against Kent State to win.
OSU has talented guards in freshman Malaki Branham and graduate student Jamari Wheeler, and both could have big nights if Xavier struggles defending ball screens.