After a rocky first half, the Ohio State Buckeyes powered through in the second half over Mercer, to get their third win in a row, 64-44.
The Buckeyes wouldn't get off to the best of starts as far as shooting goes in this one. Their first basket came with 16:44 left in the first half, a Trevor Thompson layup. The Buckeyes would go into the under-16 timeout down 5-3.
After jumping out to a 9-3 lead, Ohio State was able to trim the Bears' lead to 13-12. Mercer was shooting just 35 percent from the field up until that point, but Ohio State wasn't any better, shooting 33 percent, and going 0-for-5 from deep.
The Buckeyes tied the game at 13 apiece after a Trevor Thompson free throw with just under nine minutes remaining, only to see Jestin Lewis help the Bears regain the lead with a three-pointer. That was compounded by a Phillip Leonard jumper, giving Mercer an 18-13 lead at the under-8 timeout.
After the timeout, Mercer was able to convert on an alley-oop to Stephon Jelks. It appeared that they would take all momentum, but JaQuan Lyle put together a pair of baskets to keep Ohio State in the game at 20-17. A Keita Bates-Diop putback, and JaQuan Lyle layup in transition gave Ohio State a 21-20 lead, their first of the game with just over five minutes to go in the half.
After trading baskets, Mickey Mitchell made his Ohio State debut, and drew a charge late in the first half. The Buckeyes would take a 25-24 lead to end the half.
Trevor Thompson got the momentum going for Ohio State to start the second half with a powerful putback dunk. The energy coming out of the half was more similar to that of what we saw in the Kentucky game. Ohio State started the half on a 7-1 run, taking a 32-25 lead. They would extend that lead to 38-28 with 16:34 left in the game.
The Buckeyes continued their solid play, holding onto a 44-30 lead at the under-12 timeout. Up to this point, JaQuan Lyle had nine of the last 12 points scored by Ohio State. Ohio State looked much better on both ends of the floor.
After the timeout, the Bears would score five straight points, before a Trevor Thompson free throw ended a near-four minute scoring drought for the Buckeyes. Ohio State led 47-37 at the under-8 timeout.
The first three point shot for the Buckeyes came with 5:11 left in the game. Up until that point, the Buckeyes were 0-for-16 from deep. The Buckeyes led 56-40 after the Bates-Diop triple. The game seemed over after the Bucks were able to do what looked like might never happen for the longest time.
A Jae'Sean Tate layup, and a Kam Williams three put the Buckeyes up 61-42 with under three minutes remaining in the game, and it was all Ohio State from there.
JaQuan Lyle led the Buckeyes with 18 points. Keita Bates-Diop had 12 points and eight rebounds, while Jae'Sean Tate had 13 points, six rebounds, and seven steals. Mickey Mitchell had no points, and three rebounds in his debut, in which he saw very limited minutes.
The Buckeyes will take on South Carolina State on Sunday, their final game before Big Ten play begins.
3 things we learned
1. Turnovers are their kryptonite. Sure, this is easy to say about just any team, but in the first half, Mercer had just as many. The problem with Ohio State, is that on top of their lack of offensive prowess, their turnovers prevent them from getting into any sort of rhythm, and their confidence gets shot quickly, and their play sloppy. The Buckeyes were able to cut the Bears first half lead when they stopped turning the ball over.
They weren't even necessarily making shots that they weren't getting before, they just had a good rhythm. They played a much more calm and collected game, and it allowed them to get out of a funk that started to look like things might get out of hand for them. But in the first half, the majority of their turnovers came from their bigs, which also indicates how those guys are playing on the offensive end in any given game. They aren't strong offensively down low in the first place, so of course, turnovers just make things so much worse.
2. Free throws are far from free. There isn't one player on the Buckeyes squad who you could really confidently like to have at the free throw line at the end of a game. Early in the season, you would have hoped that with averages playing out, guys would be able to get free throws when they needed them, but the Buckeyes couldn't get a pair from the charity stripe.
If the Buckeyes hope to make any sort of run going to the NCAA Tournament, they're going to have to make their free throws. Big Ten play will be absolutely brutal if the Buckeyes aren't able to take advantage of the free throw line. The Buckeyes came on late, and made more free throws, but they would have had a higher morale had they made them count in the first half, something that this young team needs to succeed.
3. They feed off of defense. As previously discussed, it's clear this isn't the most offensively gifted team we have seen take the floor at Value City Arena. But one trend we have seen with the Buckeyes, is that when they do well on the defensive end, it typically serves them better on offense. Many teams could be well one way or the other, but all season, and especially tonight, it showed that the Buckeyes need their defense.
The points weren't necessarily created off of turnovers, or all fastbreak points. This is a young team, that plays better when their energy is high, and momentum is in their favor. Things are awfully painful when the momentum is either neutral or not in their favor. So as long as Jeff Boals continues to craft the Bucks on the defensive end, that will serve them very well.