Unique road tests awaits young Ohio State team in trip to Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium

Sean McNeil wasn’t the typical first-year college player when he went on the road for his first conference game. Three years removed from high school, McNeil was in his first season at West Virginia as the Mountaineers opened Big 12 play at Kansas’ vaunted Allen Fieldhouse.

Yes, McNeil had played at Pitt and against St. John’s at Madison Square Garden during the non-conference portion of the 2019-20 season. But this was different, and it gave the Ohio State graduate transfer guard an idea of what to expect Wednesday night when the Buckeyes play at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge (7:15 p.m., ESPN).

“(Kansas was) probably the hardest place I’ve played up until maybe (Wednesday) night,” McNeil said. “Being an experienced guy, I kind of know what these games are like and what Cameron Indoor, I have a feel for what that will probably be like (Wednesday).”

This isn’t the first time the 2022-23 Buckeyes will play outside of Value City Arena, but it will be their first time in front of a hostile crowd. After hosting Eastern Illinois on Nov. 16, Ohio State went 2-1 in the Maui Invitational before returning home, catching up on sleep and starting preparations for the Blue Devils. The Lahaina Civic Center offers an energetic, intimate setting for a game, but nothing like what Ohio State will face Wednesday night.

Ohio State basketball: What did the Ohio State basketball team learn about itself in Maui Invitational?

No current Ohio State player has played at Duke. One member of the on-court coaching staff has experienced a game there: assistant coach Mike Netti, who as an assistant at East Carolina when the Pirates went there and lost, 83-74, on Nov. 19, 2013.

Freshman guard Bruce Thornton, an Alpharetta, Georgia, native who said he grew up as an SEC fan, said he’s looking forward to the experience.

“For me, watching basketball, playing at Duke is a big thing,” he said. “There’s just certain places in college basketball I feel like playing at Duke is like a top-five thing. I’m very excited to play there.”

The game is a rematch of last year’s Ohio State home win, a game where the unranked Buckeyes closed on a 21-7 run to shock No. 1 Duke, 71-66. Revenge figures to be on the minds of the Cameron Crazies, but the chance to either avenge last year’s loss or win again won’t register much with this year’s teams. Both have just one returning player who saw minutes in that game: Ohio State’s Zed Key and Duke’s Jeremy Roach.

So when asked what Ohio State can take from last year’s matchup in Columbus, Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann had a blunt response.

“Nothing,” he said. “Not really much of anything. We played at home. Incredible environment. I can take some good memories. Outside of that, nothing really.”

To prepare for the environment, Holtmann said the Buckeyes will do what they typically do when going to hostile arenas. Ohio State will practice with noise machines and work with hand signals from the bench rather than audible calls in anticipation of the student crowd that as of Tuesday night had already begun camping out outside the arena.

The Buckeyes will be without third-year wing Gene Brown III, who is yet to play this season after suffering a concussion during the preseason, and Holtmann said “he’ll be out probably until otherwise noted, really.” Of the nine players to see action in all three games in Maui, seven are new to the program and four of them are freshmen.

Cameron Indoor is a daunting task for seasoned teams, much less a team like Ohio State that ranks 350th nationally in minutes continuity from last year according to KenPom.com.

McNeil said the Buckeyes are up for the challenge.

“I think the young guys already have a feel for it,” he said. “They went to Maui and played extremely well. These young guys don’t act like young guys. I think they’re ready for it. They’re fully prepared.”

We’ll see Wednesday night.

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy

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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Ohio State's young roster to get new test in road showdown with Duke