Ohio State and Akron opened up the NIT with quite the nail-biter. The Buckeyes would pull out a 72-63 overtime victory, advancing to the second round of the NIT.
The Buckeyes, expectedly missing Jae'Sean Tate due to his shoulder injury, were also without forward Keita Bates-Diop due to an illness, giving Kam Williams his first career start.
The game got off to a slow start for both teams, as they were deadlocked in a sluggish 5-5 game after the first six minutes and change. Kam Williams appeared to be the liveliest player on the floor in the early going, and had the Buckeyes first five points.
The two teams would start to pick up some sort of pace, and trade baskets, for a total of six lead changes by the under-8 timeout. Antonio Jackson was leading the Zips on the offensive end with five points, and Marc Loving began to find a rhythm, scoring six for the Buckeyes.
The lead changes continued, with 12 of them with just under two and a half minutes left in the first half. The game continued to be sluggish. The Buckeyes had their opportunities down low, and took advantage of some, but for the most part, the performance wasn't what it should have been. On that part of the floor. The Zips took their biggest lead of the game after a Noah Robotham three-pointer, giving them a 29-22 lead.
A Marc Loving free throw, and a floater with four seconds remaining in the half trimmed the Zips lead to 29-25 heading into the locker room.
The Buckeyes came out on a 7-0 run, after the Zips opened up a 33-27 lead. Mickey Mitchell had five of those seven, one of his baskets including a three-pointer. A Jackson free throw brought the Buckeye run to a halt, but Mickey Mitchell knocked down a pair of free throws, only to be answered by an Isaiah Johnson layup. The game would be tied at 36 apiece going into the under-16 timeout.
Ohio State found themselves up with their biggest lead of the game at 44-40, with the Value City Arena crowd finally alive. Just as it seemed that the Buckeyes could pull away with some momentum, they gave it right back. The Zips answered with a 6-0 run, forcing a Thad Matta timeout with just under 11 and a half minutes left in the second half.
The Bucks would regain their lead, thanks to a three by Kam Williams, which was extended thanks to a free throw by Marc Loving, and a pair of free throws by Daniel Giddens, giving them a 50-46 lead. But of course, it wouldn't go unanswered, as Robotham nailed a jumper, which was then followed up by a three-pointer and the free throw by Reggie McAdams, giving us a 52-52 tie.
The number of lead changes in the game would climb to 20, with a total of nine ties. Akron took a 59-58 lead into the under-4 timeout, after a turnover from Isaiah Johnson. JaQuan Lyle would give the Buckeyes the lead back at 60-59, after a put-back layup. McAdams came up with a huge three for Akron in response, only to be answered by yet another Lyle basket, putting the game at a 62-62 tie, that would take us into overtime after sloppy possessions by both teams.
Loving would get the Buckeyes a quick two-point jumper to start off overtime. An Isaiah Johnson free throw narrowed the gap to one for the Zips with just under four minutes remaining. Johnson had plenty of attempts on the line during overtime, but could not convert.
A Kam Williams steal and layup gave Ohio State a 66-63 lead, and the freshman was fired up, igniting the Value City Arena crowd. Reggie McAdams had a few good looks from three for the Zips, but they couldn't fall. Another Kam Williams bucket gave the Buckeyes a five-point lead, and after Ohio State regained possession, it was theirs. Marc Loving knocked in a pair of free throws to seal the deal.
Marc Loving, JaQuan Lyle, and Kam Williams carried the load offensively for the Buckeyes, all having 18 points apiece. Loving had 13 rebounds, with Lyle having 14, along with six assists. The performance by the trio was great in the end, with the Buckeyes short on men.
Isaiah Johnson finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds for Akron, while Reggie McAdams had 12 points and 11 rebounds.
3 things we learned:
1. The loss of Bates-Diop hurt. As if the Jae'Sean Tate loss wasn't bad enough, we learned shortly before the game that Keita Bates-Diop wouldn't be suiting up for the game due to an illness. The effect showed early, with the Buckeyes getting off to a slow start on both ends of the floor. It especially showed underneath the basket, where the Buckeyes would seem to be in position for rebounds, but just couldn't come down with a few seemingly easy ones.
His scoring might have been missed the most. The beginning of the game seemed like it would just carry on forever, as neither team could buy a basket. Play by both teams seemed dead, and you can't help but think the loss of yet another key piece (along with missing the NCAAs) had something to do with it.
2. Kam Williams took advantage of his first start. For much of the game, Kam Williams led all Buckeyes with shot attempts. It was clear that Williams was going to make the most of his first career start, and it appeared he came up with baskets for the Buckeyes in times when they needed them badly, in a game that featured plenty of dead periods. In the early part of the second half, Williams was able to draw a foul on a three-point attempt, where he knocked down all of his free throws.
Williams helped the Buckeyes end a 6-0 Akron run in the middle of the second half, putting his team back up one, giving him 14 points in 29 minutes of play. Through 10 minutes of play in the second half, Williams had nine points, shooting a perfect 2-of-2 from deep. Towards the end of the second half, Williams wasn't getting as many touches, partially due to tighter defense, and mostly due to Lyle and Loving taking more shots. Williams came up huge for the Buckeyes in overtime, essentially winning the game for them, while Lyle closed it out. Williams would finish with 18 on the night.
3. Lack of depth was a big problem. The Buckeyes played just seven guys, while the Zips were subbing in up to nine guys. While the Zips might not have been as talented as the Buckeyes, their ability to keep fresh bodies in the game helped them on the defensive end of the floor, and keep their better players stamina high. It is perhaps a good way to explain aside from Bates-Diop's absence why the team was not dominating the boards the way that they should have.
The Zips had 10 points off of the bench in the first half, compared to the Buckeyes three by A.J. Harris. That trend would continue in the second half, as the bench differential was 17-3 in the Zips favor with just under 10 minutes to go in the game. In the second half it became more apparent, as it appeared Marc Loving didn't have his feet beneath him on some shots, and drives to the basket, and understandably so. Jake Kretzer was huge off the bench for the Zips, providing a threat from three-point range, knocking down four deep balls.