After splitting their first two high-profile games of the season against Virginia and UConn, Ohio State came into the CBS Sports Classic with a tremendous amount to prove against second-ranked UCLA. After a first half that saw both teams go on impressive runs, the Bruins looked like a legit national title contender in the second half en route to securing an impressive 86-73 victory.
The Bruins came into the game averaging 97.9 points per game, while the Buckeyes were clocking in at 74.6. OSU was able to keep up with UCLA’s blistering scoring pace in the first half in part because of a hot Marc Loving and an opportunistic defense, but the second half brought a slightly different story.
After a slow start in the opening minutes, the teams began finding a bit of offense. Sparked by Trevor Thompson’s immediate impact off the bench, the Buckeyes took their first lead of the game, 14-11, on a Loving three-pointer nearly six minutes in.
Even though the Bruins entered the game leading the country in field goal percentage (56%), with a bit of energy and timely shooting Ohio State was able to keep pace. Halfway through the first half, the Buckeyes were shooting 47.1% to UCLA’s 50%; the Bruins had the lead at that point 21-20.
In the first half, Loving showed the shooting ability that Buckeye fans had envisioned when he joined the program four years ago. Loving had 8 points on 3-4 shooting (including 2-3 from behind the arc), at the under-8 minute timeout. He was the team’s leader amongst six Buckeyes who had scored at that point.
Despite going cold from the floor for a few minutes, Ohio State was able to force some turnovers from UCLA to keep the game close. The Bruins finished the first half with 12 turnovers. Then, with around six and a half minutes remaining in the first half, JaQuan Lyle turned a three-point attempt into a pass mid-air to find Jae-Sean Tate down low to give the Buckeyes a 26-25 lead.
From there, the Bruins used a flurry of Buckeye turnovers to race out to a 40-30 lead. However, over the next 1:22, Ohio State got buckets from Tate and Kam Williams, and a three from Loving, to cut the lead to 40-37 at the half.
Every player that saw the court for UCLA in the first half scored, including both Aaron Holiday (10) and Isaac Hamilton (9). At the break, Loving (13) and Tate (10) led OSU’s offense. Loving ended the half shooting 5-6 from the floor, including 3-4 from three.
Often in the first half, Ohio State found success with Tate setting up shop along the baseline, underneath the basket. The 6’4 forward was able to slip behind the Bruin defense and occasionally catch them off guard. However, more than once, he found himself too far under the rim to convert.
In the first 3+ minutes of the second half, Ohio State’s hot shooting cooled off considerably as they went one for their first six (16.7%), while UCLA went 4-8. The Bruins increased their lead to 51-40 on the strength of a 7-0 run in 1:06 before OSU head coach Thad Matta was forced to call timeout.
While Ohio State continued to fight, and occasionally cut the lead to 6 or 7, the Bruins remained in control through the first 10 minutes of the half, generally hovering around the double-digit mark.
With 8:35 left in the second half, C.J. Jackson found Keita Bates-Diop for an enthusiastic slam while being fouled. After hitting the free-throw, the Buckeyes trailed just 67-61.
Again finding themselves down 11, Williams hit OSU’s first three-pointer by someone not named Marc Loving to cut the lead to 78-70 with four minutes remaining. Then, with 2:16 left, Micah Potter converted on one of two free-throws to cut it to 78-71, but the Buckeyes were never able to close the gap from there.
The basketball Buckeyes will return to action on Tuesday against Youngstown State at 7:00 p.m. EST from the Value City Arena. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3.
Three things we learned:
1. UCLA is really good at basketball. After they knocked-off No. 1 Kentucky in Rupp Arena a few Saturdays ago, it was no longer a secret that UCLA was one of the best teams in the country. They have been able to get consistent and explosive scoring from everyone who steps foot on the floor for them.
However, seeing them in action against a hot-and-cold Ohio State team just reinforced how special of a team they are. The Buckeyes had stretches where they looked like they could be one of the best teams in the country, but other than occasional spurts where they couldn’t hang onto the ball, UCLA was full-throttle from the opening tip to the final buzzer.
Some, apparently, are questioning their defensive ability, but when you routinely put up 95-100 points in the normally offensively-challenged college basketball, maybe defense isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
2. Marc Loving still has the stroke. Outside of the Loving extended family, it is unlikely that any Buckeye fan will say that Marc Loving’s career in Columbus has lived up to expectations. The former Mr. Ohio Basketball has shown flashes of brilliance in his three+ seasons, but he has not yet matured into the veteran scorer and leader that many hoped for him to be.
However, in the biggest game of the non-conference schedule, Loving showed up, at least in the first half. He was the game’s high scorer in the first 20 minutes with 13, converting on three of four from downtown. He finished with 19.
Coming into the game, he was averaging 11.5 points on 43.4% shooting (32.6% from three), so it is encouraging to see him have his best performance in the biggest game of the year, especially after he put up just 7 points on 3-8 shooting against UVA.
If he is able to bring more of the stroke and confidence that he displayed against UCLA (especially in the first half) into the Big Ten slate, he could cap his career with an impressive run.
3. Ohio State continues to struggle with the layups. It’s not quite the epidemic that Buckeye fans have been forced to witness from the free-thrown line over the years, but in a similar vein, the team has struggled with baskets closest to the rim over the last few seasons. The first five minutes of the game against UCLA saw three missed layups for the Buckeyes, in addition to a missed dunk and another bunny later in the first half.
While it would be foolish to expect them to hit every shot within three feet, when a team scores 18 of its 34 first half-points in the paint against the highest scoring team in the country, missing out on five additional baskets can be problematic.