Freshman guard JaQuan Lyle had 19 points and 11 rebounds, while junior forward Marc Loving added 20 points, but the Ohio State men’s basketball team’s season came to a close Sunday afternoon in the second round of the National Invitational Tournament, falling to Florida 74-66.
The Buckeyes (21-14, 11-7) were doomed by lackadaisical effort to start to both halves of play and leaky interior defense that allowed the third-seeded Gators (21-14, 9-9) to get to the rim, seemingly, at will.
The Gators, who had four players finish with double-digit scoring totals, scored 44 points in the paint and shot 45 percent from the field overall.
OSU trimmed its deficit to seven points three times in the final 4:34, but each time, the Gators were able to fend off the Buckeyes’ desperate attempts to get back into the game. The first two times it was 3-pointers on the ensuing possession, while the third time, it was clutch free-throw shooting from redshirt senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith that repelled OSU.
The Scarlet and Gray, who failed to lead at any point, were in a double-digit hole for much of the second half after failing to come out of the locker room ready to go.
The Buckeyes peeled off a 9-0 run to head into halftime down just 31-30, but the Gators pounced on them once the second frame began, powered by a 14-2 run in the first four and a half minutes.
Florida continued to lead by double figures for the next 10 minutes, before a dunk by freshman center Daniel Giddens cut OSU’s deficit to nine points.
The start of the game mirrored the beginning of the second half, which ended up being why OSU’s season came to a close on Sunday.
Nearly immediately after the opening tip, the Gators were aggressive, attacking the rim fearlessly, while the Buckeyes looked caught off guard by the intensity. Just like the second half, Florida started with a 14-2 run.
In the NIT, which is a consolation prize to programs like OSU and Florida, what determines success, usually, is effort. While the young Buckeyes looked like they didn’t want to play early on, the Gators appeared the opposite.
The Gators continued to outplay the Buckeyes through the opening 12 minutes, mounting a 22-17 lead. What allowed OSU to stay afloat was Lyle’s aggressiveness and Loving’s timely 3-point shooting. The duo combined for 14 of OSU’s first 17 points.
A three-minute dry spell ensued after the under-8 media timeout, and the Gators brought their lead back into double digits, 27-17.
But with just under three minutes left in the first half, it seemed the Buckeyes fully came to their senses, piecing together a 9-0 run to shave Florida’s lead to just a point, 31-30, when the halftime buzzer sounded.
That all went to waste, however, once the second half began, eventually culminating in the Buckeyes’ turbulent season coming to a close.
OSU, which was without sophomore forward Keita Bates-Diop for the second straight game, shot 39 percent from the field and had 13 turnovers. Joining Loving and Lyle in double figures was Giddens, who finished with 11 points, six rebounds and three blocks.
Freshman point guard A.J. Harris was torn up on defense in the first half, but he somewhat redeemed himself in the second half. He finished with seven points and four assists, as well as having a thunderous dunk that gave the fans inside the Schottenstein Center something to cheer about.
Finney-Smith led the Gators with 16 points and 12 rebounds, while junior guard Kasey Hill added 15 points and five assists.
Florida moves on to the NIT quarterfinals, where it is set to take on the winner of Monmouth versus George Washington on Wednesday night.