The Ohio State men’s basketball needed nearly the entire 40 minutes to put away UNC Asheville, but the Buckeyes were able to walk away from the Schottenstein Center with a 79-77 victory Thursday night. It was OSU’s sixth all-time victory over the Bulldogs, and the 10th win win this year for Thad Matta and company, powered by 17 point outings from junior forward Jae’Sean Tate and sophomore guard JaQuan Lyle.
Overall, Matta was far from pleased with his team’s performance.
“We weren’t as sharp as we needed to be,” he said. “Especially on the defensive end.”
After the opening tip off, Ohio native and Asheville junior guard Kevin Vannatta hit the deck to grab a loose ball, and moved it up the court to junior guard Ahmad Thomas for an easy lay-in. Even with the game close for much of the night, it was one of the only leads the Bulldogs would have.
Vannatta, hailing from Columbus, went 2-for-2 from deep, and contributed 35 minutes. According to Asheville coach Nick McDevitt, the chance to see Vannatta return to his home city and perform was heartwarming, but he was more impressed with how he handled himself.
“We always try to get back home somewhere close for all of our players. It’s not always possible … we’ve got two international players on our team so it’s not always possible,”McDevitt said. “It was fun to get back here, see a lot of folks and family, but once this morning came around, it was game day (for Vannatta) and any other game.”
OSU junior center Trevor Thompson, in his first start of the year, stepped in for injured freshman center Micah Potter, and had a favorable impact for the Buckeyes. Pouring in 14 points and pulling down 10 rebounds, he was a consistent force for OSU on offense and defense.
It took Lyle more than 12 minutes to take his first shot, as he was content playing the role of distributor in the first. As a team, the Buckeyes had 15 assists, with Lyle leading the way, dishing out six.
After a mostly uneventful first half, in which both teams combined for 18 total turnovers, OSU held onto a 36-33 lead heading into the break. Even with a 53.6 percent team shooting percentage, the pesky Bulldogs would not allow OSU to pull out to a sizable lead.
Immediately out of halftime, Asheville brought the game within one, before the Buckeyes stretched out an 11 point lead backed by a 9-0 run. The small cushion was enough to keep the Buckeyes in the lead for the rest of the contest.
OSU took advantage of a noticeable size advantage over the Bulldogs, outrebounding Asheville 39-28. The Buckeyes occasionally struggled to rotate and avoid screens, allowing open looks from deep and 11 made 3-point shots from the Bulldogs.
“They played hard,” Tate said. “That’s one of the hardest working teams that I think we’ve seen all year. They got like every 50-50 ball. They’re just undersized, but they made an impact. You know, down the stretch we just got to work on handling adversity. We got to handle tough moments and just be mentally tough.”
Senior forward Marc Loving was nailed with a technical foul with under seven minutes left in the game, and Asheville freshman guard MaCio Teague knocked down a pair of free throws before Vannatta notched the game at 64 with a 3-pointer.
A personal and technical foul on Thompson caused him to foul out with 4:25 remaining, and allowed the Bulldogs to grab a 67-65 lead. In the closing minutes, however, it was all Lyle.
“I knew we needed a play,” he said. “I think me and Keita (Bates-Diop) set a pick-and-roll, and we got the switch that we wanted, and I knew I had him going right. And once I got that one step in front of him, I knew where to put it on the backboard, and it went in.”
A pair of clutch free throws and a layup with less than two minutes remaining from Lyle allowed the Buckeyes to recapture the lead, before Lyle hit two more layups to further the gap.
Overall, the Buckeyes felt the game could have gone much better, especially considering two technical fouls nearly cost them the game. Tate said two technical fouls in the same four-minute stretch is “unacceptable.”
OSU is now 10-3 this season, and will travel to Champaign, Illinois to face off against the Fighting Illini on Jan. 1.