Under the bright lights of New York City in Madison Square Garden, Ohio State embraced the spotlight, remaining undefeated after a thrilling come from behind 64-61 victory against Notre Dame in the 2013 BlackRock Gotham Classic.
The Irish switched into a 2-3 zone early, which proved to be a test for the Buckeye offense. Ohio State tried to get Amir Williams going in the paint to counter. Williams had the Buckeyes first five points, while Notre Dame tried to do the same with their 6'11 center Garrick Sherman.
The only form of offense for Notre Dame early was through Sherman, who struggled against Williams in the paint. Sherman was benched after just five minutes of bad shots (and an even worse beard).
Sloppy offense on both sides of the ball was the story of the first ten minutes. Two back-to-back 3's from Shannon Scott gave Ohio State a 13-10 lead midway through the first. Williams and Sherman continued to battle in the paint, with LaQuinton Ross and Aaron Craft sparking a fire for the Ohio State offense in transition. An and-one layup from Craft on a fast break gave Ohio State a 24-18 lead with four to play in the opening half.
With an "O-H-I-O" chant circling the Garden, Ross hit a 3 with a minute left in the half, putting the Buckeyes up 31-24 in the closing seconds. On their next trip down, Ross pulled another 3 and missed, which proved to be the most exciting play of the half. Off the miss, Sam "They Call Me Slam" Thompson followed the brick with an emphatic put-back dunk that brought the crowd to their feet with 30 seconds to play.
Ohio State led 33-26 at the break thanks to nine points from Williams, seven from Ross and six from Scott. The Buckeyes shot 50 percent from the field, with eight assists on 13 buckets.
Sherman led the Irish in scoring with 12 points, but would start the second half with two fouls to his name. Other Irish in foul trouble included Guard Jerian Grant (two) and Guard Eric Atkins (three). Notre Dame was 0-6 shooting from behind the arc in the first half, but came out firing in the second half.
Atkins opened the second half with a deep 3-pointer, the first for Notre Dame in the contest. Ohio State continued to attack the paint, going to Williams down low on their first two possessions. The Buckeyes' interior passing provided open looks in the Irish zone, but not enough to hold on to the lead.
Notre Dame would go on a 12-4 run to open the half, giving the Irish a 38-37 lead with 15 to play. Open looks from Grant and Pat Connaughton provided a much-needed spark to the dormant Irish offense. Ohio State would go on and do what they do best: take turnovers and turn them into easy transition lay-ups. One minute later, just like that, Ohio State went back up, 41-38.
Notre Dame stayed hot behind the arc, while on the other side, Craft began to attack the rim instead of facilitating like we're accustomed to seeing.
Both benches were quiet through the midway point of the second half, with the first points off the Notre Dame bench coming with 12 to play on a Tom Knight free-throw. Connaughton continued to provide offense for the Irish, with a step-back three and a thunderous two-hand slam on the ensuing possessions.
The Ohio State faithful tried to rally the struggling Buckeyes at the eight-minute media timeout, where OSU trailed Notre Dame, 48-44. The Irish zone proved to be a factor in the second half, giving the Buckeyes fits compared to the first half.
A questionable offensive foul on Sherman (his fourth) with six minutes left opened up the lanes for the Buckeyes, who ended their nine minute scoring drought thanks to a LaQuinton Ross bucket from the top of the key.
A series no calls on both ends of the floor led to Notre Dame attacking Ross, who struggled on defense all night long. With three minutes to play, the Irish were shooing two with a 54-48 lead. Atkins hit one-of-two, with Ross getting an easy bucket on the other end. Grant would hit a three (with Ross in his face) to give Notre Dame a 58-50 lead with 1:50 left in the game. A series of missed 3's from Ohio State would give Notre Dame the ball back with 1:15 left. This is where it got interesting.
Lenzelle Smith Jr. was scoreless to this point, but that would all change in a matter of seconds. A Ross layup turned into a steal on the inbounds, which then led to Smith Jr.'s first points of the night. Shannon Scott was fouled after stealing the inbounds pass, hitting both sides of the one-and-one free throws. The Buckeyes would then foul freshman Demetrius Jackson with 39.6 to play, down 58-56. Jackson hit both shots, putting the Irish up 60-56.
At the other end, Smith Jr. gave the pump-fake of a lifetime and was fouled shooting a three with 32.9 seconds to play. In true senior form, Smith Jr. hit all three, putting the Buckeyes down just one.
After an Ohio State timeout, freshman Steve Vasturia was sent to the line by the Buckeyes to shoot his first free-throws of the season...in Madison Square Garden. Vasturia missed the front end of the one-and-one, which led to a cutting-Smith Jr. lay-up off of a great look from a driving Craft on the other end.
After the lay-up, Grant was swiped of the ball driving to the line, giving the Buckeyes the ball with 10.4 seconds left. Smith Jr. was immediately fouled, and with 9.8 seconds left, hit both shots giving Ohio State a 63-60 lead. Craft would then be called on a debatable, physical foul on a screen with 6.7 seconds left, putting Notre Dame in the double-bonus. Grant hit just one of the two free throws, giving the ball back to Ohio State. Craft was then fouled with 3.3 left to play. Craft hit the first, but missed the second foul shot. Without any timeouts left, Notre Dame was forced to push the ball and shoot a desperation three to no avail.
After all appeared to be lost, the Buckeyes escaped the Big Apple without a blemish on their perfect now 12-0 record. Even ESPN was caught off guard given ND's ostensibly safe margin with just under a minute to play. Ross led Ohio State with 16 points and 11 rebounds, but the player of the game (or second half, really) was unquestionably Smith Jr. After being held scoreless for the first 39 minutes of play, the Buckeyes' senior guard finished the contest with 9 clutch points in the last minute, helping to lead Ohio State on the game deciding14-3 run.
The Buckeyes will return to the friendly confines of Value City Arena on Friday, Dec. 27 where they'll play host to the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks at 7 p.m ET.