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Mike Lopresti | | November 7, 2019

Ohio State and Cincinnati have basketball history on their side no matter the final score

Andy Katz recaps the Champions Classic from Tuesday night

COLUMBUS, Ohio – And now it’s time for neighbors Ohio State and Cincinnati to say goodbye again until . . . well, who knows?

The Buckeyes beat the Bearcats Wednesday night 64-56 in their first on-campus meeting in Columbus since 1921. Last year, Ohio State won by the same score in Cincinnati, in their first game on that campus since 1920 — the year Warren Harding was elected president of the United States. He was an Ohio guy, by the way.

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The map will show us they’re barely 100 miles apart. The record book will tell us they share a line in the history of the NCAA Tournament, as the only teams from the same state ever to play for the national championship. Did it in 1961 and ’62, with Cincinnati winning both. So they're co-owners of some rich March memories. But they have studiously avoided one another in the regular season since — meeting only twice on neutral floors in an in-season event or postseason tournament. Which is why the fling of nostalgia the past two years seemed a fine idea to a lot of people. The Buckeyes must have particularly enjoyed it, winning both.

“Would I had said I’m glad we scheduled it, if we went 1-1?” coach Chris Holtmann said.  “I don’t know.”

There is no contract in place for the future, so Ohio State now goes thisaway, and Cincinnati thataway. But Holtmann understands why it was good that it happened.

“I had an usher sit down before the game right after our shoot-around and said, `You know coach, I was a student here when we lost in back-to-back final games in ‘61 and 62.’ Bottom line is, it means a lot to people that know our program.

“I got a couple of calls and voicemails this week. It does matter to them."

 Jerry Lucas was in the house Wednesday. He was a two-time national player of the year for Ohio State in 1961 and ’62, and led the Buckeyes to the national title in 1960, and the championship game the next two seasons. But Cincinnati vexed him.

So history strongly argues these two teams belong together. But there are always issues.

“I don’t know when this will continue, if it will continue,” Holtmann said. “I think it’s good for both programs. Now, people are also going to ask about Xavier and Dayton. If you’re playing UC, why aren’t you playing Xavier and Dayton? Scheduling is complicated. But I think it will be something we revisit.”

New Cincinnati coach John Brannen wouldn’t mind, with one proviso.  “I’m not sure I want to do it the first game of the year,” he said.

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Well, about that. There has been a quest in many places to spruce up the first week. The ACC scheduled seven league games in the season’s first 24 hours. The Champions Classic moved to opening night. Ohio State and Cincinnati made their reunion a season opener. But here’s the fine print: The offense might not be ready for such moments. Look around at some of the results.

This score just in: Virginia 48, Syracuse 34. No, that was at the end, not halftime. The Orange shot under 24 percent. Who wants to start a season eyeball to eyeball with Virginia’s defense?

Pittsburgh, a program trying to escape the ACC wilderness after going 3-33 in league games the past two seasons, upset Florida State. The Panthers shot 31 percent to do it.

Kentucky and Duke were winners in the Champions Classic and will likely be rewarded with the top two spots in the rankings next week. Neither team could manage 40 percent shooting. Kansas almost beat Duke and 28 turnovers.

After seven minutes on Wednesday, Ohio State had five turnovers, seven missed shots — and no points against Cincinnati.  “I started to wonder if we were going to score tonight,” Holtmann said, describing the event as “a good old-fashioned rock fight.” The Buckeyes reached halftime with only 19 points. Across the Olentangy River at Ohio Stadium, the football team has had more than 19 points at halftime in seven of its eight games.

“You’re just not there yet in November. You’re just not,” Holtmann said. “We want these games early. Everybody wants us to play these kind of games, and I get it. But there’s going to be some games that aren’t as perfect as we’d like.”

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He was delighted to hear that 48-34 Virginia-Syracuse score since it made his own team’s offensive struggles pale in comparison. “I feel great right now. All the fans who watched (Ohio State-Cincinnati) saw an offensive explosion.”

Well, not exactly. The Buckeyes and Bearcats combined for 9-for-37 from the 3-point line, and missed 19 free throws. But who’s to quibble when you’re watching something that happens about as rarely as Halley’s Comet?

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