Ohio State started off the game with their patented slow start, but they regrouped to make things close by halftime, not forcing them to have to climb out of a big hole in the second half. The Buckeyes looked like they couldn't hit the broad side of a barn early, enduring a 9-0 VCU run, in which they didn't score for 6:17, and at a point were down by as many as 12 points.
The start early in the game for VCU was the Atlantic 10 Tournament MVP, Treveon Graham, who hit two early three-pointers to help the Rams jump out to an early edge. At that point it was 13-9 VCU, but the Buckeyes quickly responded with the first basket from D'Angelo Russell at 13:55 of the first half.
Early on the Buckeyes didn't look to have their heads in the game, and that even extended to those not on the floor. Ohio State was assessed a technical foul early in the game when Trey McDonald entered the game. The problem was McDonald was entered in the scorebook as number 50, when he is actually number 55. VCU got a free point when they made one of the two technical free throws they were awarded.
After that D'Angelo Russell started to heat up, hitting two three-pointers, and Ohio State actually got a little bit of life out of Amir Williams to close the gap. Another big reason for the change in momentum was the switch to a zone defense, which after VCU jumped out to a 25-13 lead saw the Rams only score five points the rest of the half. Ohio State ended the run on a 16-5 run to pull within 30-29 by the time the first 20 minutes were up in Portland.
Early on it wasn't so much the Havoc defense which gave Ohio State problems, it was just the Buckeyes not getting shots to fall. After hitting their first three shots from the field, Ohio State proceeded to miss three of their next 17 shots. The tide shifted back in Ohio State's favor when they shifted to the zone defense, and during that time VCU started to go cold from the field which allowed the Buckeyes to close the gap.
There was a furious pace to start the second half, with VCU hitting an early three-pointer to build a small cushion on the Buckeyes. But Ohio State wouldn't be deterred by the success of the Rams coming out of the break, as Ohio State went on a 10-0 run to take a 40-37 lead on VCU at the 17-minute mark, which forced Shaka Smart to take a timeout to try down some of the momentum Ohio State was building.
After that it was the Doug Brooks show for a while for the Rams. The sophomore hit the first four three-pointers he took, and at one point scored 12 straight points for VCU, the last of those points gave the Rams the lead back at 48-47 with 11:40 to go in the second half.
From there on out the second half was entertaining if you are a fan of basketball in general. While fans of both teams were on pins and needles, the lead went back and forth. There was a few questionable decisions by the referees in the mind of Buckeye fans which allowed VCU to get into the double-bonus in terms of foul shots with plenty of time left in the half.
Two huge threes from Melvin Johnson would go on to give VCU a late lead before a quick trip down the floor by OSU culminated in an Amir Williams slam to tie things. On the next trip down, Shannon Scott would have a look for the go ahead basket before it rimmed out. On the game's final play, VCU had a look but also couldn't get the basket they needed.
The beginning of the overtime was back and forth but really began to turn on a contentious sequence in which OSU freshman Jae'Sean Tate got tangled up with a VCU player. He was called for a double-foul (and a flagrant was debated) but the call resulted in Tate's fifth foul and disqualified him from the rest of the contest.
His replacement, Keita Bates-Diop, hit a huge go ahead three with just over two minutes to play that would prove big. And Ohio State would ultimately hold on in the end. Next up Ohio State will take on Arizona on Saturday in Portland.
3 things we learned
1) As down as many have been on Ohio State this year, at least they showed some heart today: Once Ohio State got down by 12 points in the first half, it would've been easy for the Buckeyes to fold up shop and concede a loss. Instead they battled back and gave themselves a chance by the time halftime hit. Unlike many games this year when they've fallen behind by double digits earlier this year, this time Thad Matta made adjustments on the fly which allowed his team to close to 30-29 by halftime.
While many would expect the four seniors to lead the charge to make the deficit manageable, instead it was a couple freshmen who made the difference. The two three-pointers by D'Angelo Russell, along with some strong work by Jae'Sean Tate were the catalyst which sparked the Ohio State rally. Not to say the seniors didn't do anything during that time, as some surprisingly good play from Amir Williams, along with a great pass by Shannon Scott to a wide-open Russell allowed the Buckeyes to chip away at the lead.
2) D'Angelo Russell. What more can we really say about the man? Not like Ohio State fans expected any different from the sensational freshman, but he really did put the Buckeyes on his back in this game. Early on Russell wasn't very active, not hitting his first bucket until six minutes into the game, but he made up for lost time early in the first half, finishing with 12 points.
Russell didn't get cooled off by the break at halftime, scoring an early four points. In reality though after getting fouled on a three-pointer and hitting a free throw, and he followed that up by hitting his third three-pointer of the game during a 10-0 Ohio State run. Nearing the 15-minute mark of the second half, Russell hit another three-pointer in which it looked like the defender was pasted on him to give Ohio State a 45-39 lead.
Russell finished the game 10-20 from the field, with four three-pointers to give him a game-high 28 points. Ohio State is going to need another performance like that from the freshman if they are hoping to challenge a Arizona team which had a easy time against Texas Southern earlier in the day in Portland.
3) For as bad as people have talked about Amir Williams, he showed up today. Coming into this NCAA tournament, Williams had played in eight games, in which he had scored a combined eight points. It didn't take the senior too long to double that total, as he started the game off with an early dunk, and had some other quality opportunities inside. While he might not have been quite as active on the boards as some would like, he did add to Ohio State's six first half blocks with two of his own.
Amir wasn't the only senior to contribute to Ohio State's cause today. While Shannon Scott didn't have his best shooting performance as a Buckeye, he looked like the Shannon Scott we saw early in the season when he was dishing out numerous assists. The play from Scott was especially welcomed with Sam Thompson neutralized for much of the game, especially in the second half with the foul trouble he had to deal with. Scott ended up hitting double-digits in assists for the Buckeyes with 10, helped to ensure Ohio State saw the round of 32.