COLUMBUS — Just like last offseason, Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann and his staff added three players from the transfer portal this time around: two grad transfers and one transfer with multiple years of eligibility.
Holtmann has experienced mixed results with transfer additions throughout his six-year tenure. Last year, the Buckeyes arguably hit on only one of their three transfers. Sean McNeil from West Virginia lived up to expectations. His 36.9% 3-point clip was the second highest of his career, and he finished second on the team with 59 triples. McNeil scored 10 or more points in 17 games last season.
On the other hand, Isaac Likekele from Oklahoma State posted career lows in field goal percentage (38.8%), free throw percentage (47.2%), rebounds per game (4.0), assists per game (2.8), and his 3.8 points per game were 3.3 points fewer than any of his other season scoring averages. Granted Likekele missed time in December while attending to a “family matter” and maintained a leadership role while re-establishing a ball-handling/defensive role after returning, but his offensive production left a lot to be desired.
Then there’s Tanner Holden, who went from starring for a Wright State team that made the NCAA Tournament in 2021-22 to averaging a mere 13.5 minutes and 3.6 points per game at Ohio State. Holden drilled a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in the Big Ten opener against Rutgers — which the league admitted shouldn’t actually have counted — but that heroic moment wasn’t a sign of things to come. As Holtmann’s rotation shrunk, Holden found himself on the outside looking in. He played in just six games from Feb. 2 to March 11, and his defense never seemed to catch up to where Holtmann wanted it to be.
There were high expectations for McNeil, Likekele and Holden, especially because, in returning just three rotational players ahead of last season, Ohio State needed outside help. But even McNeil — the most successful of the three — had his rough patches.
Lettermen Row is tackling that question.
F – Jamison Battle
First and foremost, Battle offers the Buckeyes volume 3-point shooting. He has averaged 2.5 long-grange makes per contest over his four-year career, which started at George Washington in the A-10. Every season, he’s kept that average above two 3-pointers per game. Of Battle’s 1,257 career field goal attempts, 734 of them, or 58.3%, have been from deep.
After losing McNeil to graduation and, in all likelihood, Brice Sensabaugh to the NBA, Ohio State needs other players to step up from beyond the arc. Battle can be the flag bearer in that department. He is a career 35% shooter from 3-point land. Plus, he has a 6-foot-7, 225-pound frame that allows him to attack the cup on occasion. That said, he’s more comfortable pulling up for an elbow jumper than he is slicing to the rack. Battle is a capable rebounder, however, he lagged in that department last season.
Realistic expectations: Battle could be a season-opening starter for the Buckeyes. Just two seasons ago, he ranked seventh in the Big Ten with 17.5 points per game. He has a chance to be Ohio State’s go-to option from deep and headline this class of transfers.
Eligibility remaining: 1 year
G – Dale Bonner
Bonner was earning quality bench minutes while playing for a Baylor team armed with fellow guards Adam Flagler, Keyonte George and LJ Cryer — all of whom averaged at least 15 points per game last season and are either testing the NBA Draft waters or hoping to hear their name called in this year’s draft. Bonner averaged 19.3 minutes per game last year and 17.3 minutes per game the year before that. So he’s used to coming off the bench at the point, which he will likely do at Ohio State, lending a hand to captain and up-and-comer Bruce Thornton.
Bonner led Baylor in assists eight times over his two-year stint with the Bears. Just last year, he posted four or more assists 10 times, including five games where he had at least six helpers. And, in those five games, he combined for just six turnovers. That’s music to Holtmann’s ears, considering the Buckeyes were 283rd nationally with only 11.7 assists per game in 2022-23. Bonner also logged 1.4 steals per game last season, and he’s one of five players in Baylor history with multiple six-plus steal performances. His 4.7 points per outing last year are more of a reflection of his role at Baylor than his scoring ability. Bonner has the quickness to get to the cup, and he’s a proficient 3-point shooter. Before transferring to Baylor, he averaged a shade more than 20 points per game his final year at Division II Fairmont State.
Realistic expectations: Thornton has a high motor, but even he needs a breather every now and then. Bonner should back Thornton up at the point and give the Buckeyes a reliable ball handler off the bench who can be a playmaker and defensive catalyst.
Eligibility remaining: 1 year
G/F – Evan Mahaffey
Whereas Battle and Bonner figure to make an immediate impact for the Buckeyes, the addition of Mahaffey appears to include a more long-term view. Mahaffey has three years of eligibility remaining, and although he isn’t as polished as some of the Buckeyes’ other rising sophomores, he has a good bit of potential, given his length and athleticism. Where Mahaffey can help right away is on the defensive end of the floor. That’s where he made his mark as a freshman on a veteran-heavy Penn State team last season. He provides Ohio State with positional flexibility, something that Holtmann values significantly.
Mahaffey averaged only 9.3 minutes, 2.8 points and 1.7 rebounds per game last season, but he’s more talented offensively than those numbers suggest. After all, he shot 56.9% from the floor, and he reached or eclipsed the six-point mark seven times. He made do with limited minutes. Look no further than his season-high 12 points in 13 minutes during a Jan. 11 win over Indiana. The Cincinnati native was a 2022 Ohio Mr. Basketball finalist who averaged north of 15 points per game as a senior at Archbishop Moeller.
Realistic expectations: Mahaffey will likely be a bench contributor in the back half of the Buckeyes’ rotation this season. He has what it takes to give Ohio State a lift, particularly defensively, but don’t expect him to be consistently scoring in double figures — at least, not yet, anyway.
Eligibility remaining: 3 years
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