Game 7 Preview: Power 5 Redux

Jeff Boals and the Ohio Bobcats play at LSU on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021 in OU’s second road game this season against an SEC opponent. Photo by Jason Arkley

It’s time to see how much toughness the Bobcats have developed in the last two weeks. 

Ohio (5-1) returns to the road, and SEC basketball, on Wednesday night as it takes on undefeated LSU (7-0) inside the Maravich Center in Baton Rouge, La. Tip-off is set for 8 pm (ET) and the game will be broadcast live on SEC Network+.

Ohio’s first foray into the SEC and against a Power 5 opponent this season was a mixed bag. The Bobcats played well enough to battle the Top 25 Kentucky Wildcats to a draw through the game’s first 30 minutes. Then UK landed a big second-half run and pulled away for a 77-59 victory.

It was far more lopsided in the lane, where Kentucky crushed Ohio 53-17 on the glass. LSU doesn’t have Kentucky’s reputation, or the recruiting profile among its rotation, but the Tigers are just as equipped to dominate the game physically.

“They’re really long and athletic,” Ohio coach Jeff Boals said of LSU. “They’re going to press us, get after us, and try to get us to turn it over.”

The Tigers weren’t ranked this week, but probably should’ve been. LSU comes in fresh off winning the Emerald Coast Classic, a two-day in-season bracketed tournament in Destin, Fla., where they dispatched Penn State (68-63, OT) and Wake Forest (75-61) on consecutive nights. The games were the first this season where LSU didn’t win by at least 16 points.

The tournament championship was also the first for LSU in such an event since 2008.

“Our program has come a long way in five years,” said coach Will Wade. “This was one of the final steps. We’ve done a lot of firsts in the program in the last five years. 

“It was all about playing harder than the other team and being feistier and tougher.”

That tenacity has shown up on the defensive end where the Tigers are one of the best defensive teams in the country. LSU ranks (entering the week) sixth nationally in scoring defense (54.1 ppg allowed), fifth in FG percentage defense (34.3%), third in steals per game (12.7) and eighth in turnovers forced (20.4 per game).

“We’re off to a great start,” Wade said.

If advanced metrics are more your style, well the Tigers rank inside the nation’s top 10 in four major categories defensively, including Effective FG% defense (40.7%, 10th), Turnover percentage (28.4%, 7th), Blocked shot percentage (19.7%, 5th) and Steals percentage (17.7%, 1st).

Offensively, the Tigers are being led by the front court. Darius Days is averaging 16.6 points per game, fellow forward Tari Eason is chipping in 13.9 points and 8.2 rebounds, and freshman center Efton Reid has contributed early with 10.4 points and 5.0 rebounds per contest. 

In short, the Tigers don’t have to maul you — they can simply smother opponents with defensive pressure.

“It’s another opportunity for us to prove ourselves,” said Ohio guard Miles Brown, who had a career-high 19 points in Ohio’s most recent win over non-DI opponent Concordia. “We didn’t get it done last time; we want to be better this time around.”

Ohio, relying on PG Mark Sears (16.3 ppg), and forwards Ben Vander Plas (15.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg) and Jason Carter (14.8 ppg, 7.5 rpg) to be primary offensive facilitators, has excelled in sharing and taking care of the ball. Ohio hasn’t had more than 12 turnovers in a game yet this season, ranks 12th nationally in turnover margin (+7.0), and had just five at Kentucky two weeks ago.

The balanced scoring has remained on point as well. Ohio has three games this season where five different players all hit double figures, including each of the last two contests.

The game is the first-ever meeting between the two clubs. Ohio is 5-23 all-time (according to available data) against the SEC with the last win — according to my research — coming in 1987 against Tennessee.

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