The Ohio State men’s basketball team hit the road to face another oft-Final-Four-bound opponent on Saturday, after its game against Connecticut seven days prior ended in a 20-point embarrassment.
This time, taking on No. 4 Kentucky at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, as part of the CBS Sports Classic, things went much better for the young Buckeyes.
OSU stunned the Wildcats 74-67 behind 14 points from sophomore forward Keita Bates-Diop and and a 9-of-18 performance from behind the 3-point line.
Leading by as much as 16 points in the second half, OSU (6-5) saw its lead dwindle to as little as three points, but hustle and success at the free-throw line sealed the upset.
Neither team started strong on the offensive end, with it taking nearly seven minutes for either team to hit double-digit points.
Once the Buckeyes did, however, they caught fire, hitting eight shots in quick succession to take a 29-17 lead midway through the half. Four of those shots were from the outside coming from four different players, with junior forward Marc Loving, freshman point guard A.J. Harris, sophomore forward Keita Bates-Diop and redshirt freshman guard Kam Williams connecting on 3-pointers.
The outpouring of scoring, which also included a 12-2 run for the Buckeyes, saw OSU’s field-goal percentage shoot up to 60 percent (12-of-20) at the 7:50 mark after starting the game 3-of-10 from the floor. Each of the eight players to see the floor for the Buckeyes in the first half hit at least one shot within the first 12 minutes of the game.
OSU’s red-hot shooting cooled down considerably late in the half, including a stretch of 10 consecutive missed shots. The Wildcats (9-2) put forth an equally unimpressive performance during that time, however, as they misfired on nine of 11 shots, enabling the Buckeyes to hold onto their double-digit lead for much of the final 10 minutes.
A 3-pointer by Bates-Diop ended the more than six-minute scoring drought for OSU with 1:15 left in the half, and an off-balanced shot from well behind the line by freshman guard JaQuan Lyle to beat the buzzer put the Buckeyes up 37-25 at the break.
Bates-Diop and Lyle led OSU in the first 20 minutes with eight points apiece, while Williams added seven points off the bench. Junior forward Marcus Lee was one of the few bright spots for the Wildcats with eight points on 3-of-4 shooting and seven rebounds. Subtracting Lee’s contributions, Kentucky shot just 25 percent (8-of-32) in the first half.
Despite the successful 20 minutes, the Buckeyes came out of the break not knowing if they would be able to sustain the offense or defense needed to hold off a Kentucky program that has appeared in four of the last five Final Fours.
As it turned out, on Saturday at least, they could.
OSU extended its lead to 16 points in the first six minutes of the second half, scoring 10 of the first 16 points, as Kentucky shot 1-of-7 to begin the half.
The Wildcats later made a push back, including a stretch in which they hit seven straight shots, to cut OSU’s lead down from its comfortable margin. Freshman guard Jamal Murray erupted in the second half for Kentucky, scoring 17 points in the first 12 minutes, which accounted for all but eight of the Wildcats’ first 25 points of the half.
A Murray 3-pointer deep in the corner made the score 62-57 with 4:31 left. After a Bates-Diop free throw, Kentucky senior forward Alex Poythress connected from outside, cutting it to a three-point game.
Needing some sort of spark to answer the ferocious run, OSU freshman center Daniel Giddens provided it in the form of pure hustle.
A Kentucky offensive rebound was bobbled on the ground at half court, which Giddens saw as an opportunity to dive to the ground and snare the ball. He then shoveled it ahead to Williams, who missed a breakaway layup but was fouled intentionally, giving OSU two shots and possession.
Williams hit both shots, and Giddens then did the same after being fouled on the same possession to make the score 67-60.
The teams traded some buckets from there, but with time on the Buckeyes side, OSU held on to pull off the upset.
Murray finished with 33 points, accounting for nearly half of his team’s output. All eight OSU players to play hit multiple field goals in the game, with four — Bates-Diop, Loving, Lyle and redshirt freshman center Trevor Thompson — scoring in double figures.
Freshman forward Mickey Mitchell, who it was announced was cleared to play by the NCAA on Friday, did not see the floor for the Buckeyes.
OSU will look to ride the momentum from the signature win into a more consistent product, as its follow-up is set to come at home against Mercer on Tuesday. Tip-off is slated for 9 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.