Ohio State basketball went into Brooklyn Saturday afternoon facing the No. 4 team in the nation, and came out on top, 74-67 in a hard fought game.
The Buckeyes got off to a good start, leading 9-7 after the under-16 timeout. Trevor Thompson got off to a good start, with four of the Buckeyes nine points. JaQuan Lyle also saw a couple of early shots fall, giving him five points.
Strong play would continue for the Bucks, who showed great energy. They were able to extend their lead to 19-14 thanks to good ball movement, and distributed scoring. Daniel Giddens, A.J. Harris, Marc Loving, and Kam Williams were all able to get in on the action for the Buckeyes, who appeared to be knocking down every shot that went up.
A pair of threes from Keita Bates-Diop and Kam Williams put the Buckeyes up 10 points halfway through the first half at 25-15. The Buckeyes would extend the lead to 31-17 at the under-8 timeout.
Kentucky appeared to be narrowing the gap on the Buckeyes, after the Buckeyes went cold late in the first half. The Wildcats trimmed it to a 31-23 deficit, before Ohio State got a three ball from Bates-Diop, and a buzzer beating three from JaQuan Lyle to make it 37-25 at the half.
The two teams would continue to go back and forth, trading baskets to begin the second half. It was after the under-16 timeout that the Buckeyes did damage. The Buckeyes went on a 6-0 run, led by a pair of Loving free throws, a Bates-Diop layup, and a sweet hook from Giddens to give the Buckeyes a 47-31 lead.
The game wouldn't be complete if Kentucky didn't go on a run of their own. In the middle of the second half, it appeared that anything they would put up, was going in. They were able to trim the Buckeye lead to 57-49 with just under nine minutes remaining, and had made five consecutive field goals at one point. Jamal Murray accounted for eight straight Kentucky points.
Kentucky would continue to inch closer and closer, getting it down to a 61-54 Ohio State lead. But the Kentucky faithful in the crowd of the Barclays Center started to come alive as their team pulled closer, and the pressure seemed to begin to rattle the Buckeyes.
The Kentucky onslaught continued. The Buckeyes continued to miss free throws, and by the time Alex Poythress made a three to make it a 63-60 game, panic, and fear started to sink in for the Buckeyes.
The Buckeyes caught a huge break when Tyler Ulis was called for an intentional foul on Kam Williams, giving the Buckeyes two free throws and the ball, up 65-60 with just under three minutes to go. Daniel Giddens, normally an absurd free throw shooter, knocked down two big free throws to put Ohio State up 67-60.
Jamal Murray countered though, with an even bigger three-pointer. He simply played lights out in the second half. The two teams were trading jabs in the final two minutes, and it appeared that it could go either way towards the end. With Ohio State up 72-65, Marc Loving rebounded a Kentucky airball with under a minute remaining, and it was all Buckeyes from there on out.
Four of the five Ohio State starters had at least 10 points for the game. Jae'Sean Tate was the lone starter without double digits in points, but provided 10 rebounds for the men in scarlet and gray. Jamal Murray finished with a huge 33-point performance for the Wildcats, and Tyler Ulis pitched in 11 points of his own.
3 things we learned:
1. Energy is key. The Buckeyes played with a completely different attitude in this game. We had seen attitude out of the team in games prior to this one, but it was clear early on that they were playing with an edge. Jae'Sean Tate was jawing with the opposition just a couple of minutes into the game. The Bucks came into this one not afraid, and ready to play.
That attitude also helped them on the offensive end. They were quick in making decisions, while being smart about them. Good shots were taken without hesitation, good, crisp passes were committed, and the court awareness seemed to be at an all-time high for the season. It was a very refreshing game of Ohio State basketball to watch.
2. The Buckeyes are very streaky. Ohio State didn't get off to a great start shooting in the game. It was enough to keep it close, but it wasn't anything profound. They started off making three of their first 10 shots, and were in the game. It wasn't until the Buckeyes made their next eight shots from the field when they were able to extend and hold their lead on the Wildcats. But just as they had gotten hot, they immediately went cold towards the end of the first half. The Buckeyes went over four minutes without a basket from the field.
In that stretch, they missed nine consecutive shots, and went 1-for-11 overall before finishing the half with a pair of threes from Keita Bates-Diop and JaQuan Lyle. The second half was very much the same story for the Buckeyes, who would get their shots in bursts, and then go ice cold. If they are able to find some sort of medium, and find more bursts than cold streaks, it would really help their morale, and keep them calm and in more games.
3. Still have potential. That's something that we had more hope for in the beginning of the season, until we saw some of the performances that they had put on. Losses to UT Arlington, Louisiana Tech, and Memphis really put an early damper on the season. But it appeared Saturday afternoon that the Buckeyes were able to put it all together against one of the better teams in the nation.
It wasn't always pretty, but the game looked good for the Buckeyes for about three quarters of the duration. As we have expected all season, growing pains are going to happen. This was a Kentucky team that is well coached, and has plenty of talent, and for the Buckeyes to even stay atop of the Wildcats for as big and long as they did, was impressive. We perhaps saw how high the ceiling is for this squad.