Following a 19-year hiatus, the Ohio State men’s basketball team held on to beat in-state rival Ohio University Tuesday, 79-69.
The Buckeyes (2-0, 0-0) started fast, scoring the first nine points of the game and making their first three shots. The Bobcats did not get on the board until junior guard Stevie Taylor connected on a jumper more than five minutes into the game.
A total of 55 fouls were called over the course of the game, causing play to be disjointed at times. OSU finished 38 of 51 from the free throw line on the night, attempting seven more free throws than field goal attempts. The 38 made free throws tied a school record, set in 1968.
The heavy amount of foul calls could be the result of a new rule implemented for the 2013-14 season by the NCAA Men’s Basketball Rules Committee, who voted to pass a new stipulation banning any hand or forearm contact by a defensive player. OSU coach Thad Matta said the change is something his team needs to continue to adjust to.
“I (said) at the beginning of the season it was going to be a little bit different and I think we got to continue to adjust,” Matta said after the win.
Senior guard Aaron Craft agreed, and said it was tough to get into a flow in the game.
“We kind of came into this year having an understanding, that’s how games are going to be called … a lot of fouls, a lot of stoppage in play,” Craft said. “It really just makes you focus. You have to refocus every time the ball stops.”
Four Buckeyes scored in double figures, led by Craft with 18. Junior center Amir Williams recorded his first double-double of his career, scoring 14 points and snatching 10 rebounds. Junior forward Sam Thompson scored 12 points, and junior forward LaQuinton Ross added 10.
The Buckeyes led, 40-28, at halftime, partly because they shot 15 of 20 from the free throw line.
While the Buckeyes’ lead swelled to 17 in the first half, the Bobcats cut it to five after junior forward Maurice Ndour put back a miss with just less than four minutes to go.
Senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. hit a 3-pointer from the corner, though, with 1:55 on the clock to extend OSU’s lead to 10. The Bobcats (1-1, 0-0) fired right back, as senior guard Nick Kellogg answered with a three of his own, keeping the Bobcat fans into the game. Kellogg and Taylor finished with 21 points each.
“We’ve been in tight situations before. They had momentum, they had courage. They thought they were going to win the game,” Smith Jr. said. “For some teams, they might have panicked, but for us, I wouldn’t expect us to panic at all. We’ve been at every spectrum of the basketball game. We’ve been in tight situations.”
Playing a team who would not back down like Ohio is an experience Smith Jr. said will help the team later in the season, including Saturday when the Buckeyes travel to Marquette to battle the No. 17 Golden Eagles.
“It’s definitely going to keep us on our toes. Marquette is a very good basketball team,” Smith Jr. said. “(It’s) another humbling experience, no matter who you play, you gotta show up every game now, if you want to win games at this level.”
Craft found the ball in his hands as the game clock wound down, making enough free throws to seal the victory for the Buckeyes.
“Having them come back the way they did, making big play after big play down the stretch, and us having to come back and make a big play on our own, that’s something that’s really going to help us later on,” Craft said. “It’s games like this that really help us later on.”
Matta agreed with Craft, adding that his players had “a little bit of a dazed look” in their eyes in the second half while facing the relentless Bobcats. The Buckeyes responded well though, which Matta said is a positive moving forward.
“We weren’t as sharp as we needed to be, and maybe it was a little too easy early (on),” Matta said. “But I thought down the the stretch we made some big plays.”
OSU travels to Milwaukee Saturday to take on the Golden Eagles. Tip off is scheduled for 1 p.m.