No. 19 Ohio State faces Xavier in brotherly triangle

College Sports
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December 25 2021 12:00 am

Xavier coach Travis Steele may have some inside information on how to handle No. 19 Ohio State when the Buckeyes visit the Musketeers on Thursday. Whether he goes to the source is another question.

His brother, John Groce, is head coach of Akron, which lost 67-66 to Ohio State in the Zips’ season opener on Nov. 9 when Zed Key made a layup at the buzzer.

The problem for Steele is that Groce and Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann also have a brotherly like relationship.

“This one is unique because he was college teammates with Chris Holtmann at Taylor University so they’re very close as well,” Steele told WKRC-TV on Monday. “We all try to just be careful of mixing it in together.”

Holtmann and Groce were in the Taylor backcourt together for the 1992-93 season.

Steele said he would probably wait until after he and Xavier (2-0) face Ohio State (3-0) to talk to his brother.

“But I had a chance to watch the (Ohio State-Akron) game very closely and I know how my brother does things and what he was looking at, and that tells me a lot about what he thinks of Ohio State,” Steele said.

There is further similarity in the schedules for the Buckeyes and Xavier: Each has defeated Niagara — the Musketeers 63-60 on Nov. 9 and Ohio State 84-74 on Friday.

Ohio State pounded Bowling Green 89-58 on Monday, showing growth after emerging from the close call against the Zips and struggling to put away the Purple Eagles.

Even so, Holtmann found fault with the performance knowing that Xavier will offer a stiffer challenge.

“I thought we had some really loose defensive possessions in the second half, and that was probably most disappointing to me,” he said. “I thought our habits in the first 25 minutes were good on that end right now. Not perfect, but good and better.

“That was good to see. In games like this, that’s what you’re preaching to your guys.”

Ohio State guard Meechie Johnson Jr. liked the defensive effort against Bowling Green that included eight steals and 20 points off turnovers.

“I definitely feel like things were clicking a lot more. We had good gap support,” Johnson said. “We were helping our teammates out.

“I felt like it was a nice team effort on the defensive end. That’s why we got a lot of steals. We turned them over a lot. We knew they couldn’t handle the pressure well. Those were focus points we locked into.”

Steele believes the battle with the Buckeyes will be decided on the boards.

“They’re loaded up front. I think it’s one of the top five front courts in the country,” he said. “We have to be able to use our depth up front, and we’re going to have to man-up on the glass, around the rim with Zed Key, E.J. Liddell and Kyle Young.

“We’ve been really good on the offensive glass. That’s got to maintain, and we have to keep them off the glass offensively.”

The Musketeers also will look for more offense from Paul Scruggs, who is averaging 20 points per game, and Colby Jones, who is putting up 17.5 points per contest.

–Field Level Media

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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