The Ohio State Buckeyes men’s basketball team continued their hot start to open the 2018-19 season as they went on the road and won their second game of the season against a top-45 KenPom rated team. After opening up the slate against Cincinnati and Purdue Fort Wayne, the Buckeyes went to Omaha, Neb. and beat the Creighton Bluejays, 69-60, on Thursday night. The game was a roller coaster for Buckeye fans as the home team erased a 12-point halftime lead, only to have the visitors go on an incredible run to complete the game-winning comeback.
As part of the Big Ten vs. Big East Gavitt Tipoff Games, the OSU program was facing off against a coach that very well could have been on the opposite sideline in Greg McDermott. In 2017, following the firing of Thad Matta, OSU athletic director Gene Smith approached then-Butler coach Chris Holtmann about the opening. Unsure if he wanted to leave Butler, Smith turned his attention to McDermott, before Holtmann decided that he was ready to move to Columbus.
And, while I think that McDermott would also have done a great job leading the Buckeyes, the impact that Holtmann has had on this OSU young program was on full display against the Bluejays. The focus on offensive and defensive fundamentals has propelled Holtmann’s team to a fantastic start to his second season in Columbus.
Things started off rough for OSU on Thursday as they attempted to run the floor early. Kaleb Wesson turned it over twice in the first few minutes, and the Buckeyes shot a frustrating 1-for-7 to open the game. However, thanks to a pair of Bluejay turnovers, Creighton only led 5-2 at the first media timeout.
After a 4:05 drought, Keyshawn Woods got the Buckeyes back in the scoring column with a straight-away three. From there, OSU began to claw back into the contest with another triple from Duane Washington Jr. and a bunny from Kaleb Wesson got the game back within a bucket, 12-10.
Woods picked eight of OSU’s first 13 points, but he was displaying his leadership in other ways as well, as he was incredibly vocal on both sides of the floor, especially getting after Kaleb Wesson.
After Woods’ second triple, C.J. Jackson found Washington in transition for a three-ball of his own, and the Buckeyes took the lead for the first time at 16-14. The more than four minute drought from the Bluejays coincided with a rash of Creighton turnovers. However, after Andre Wesson hit a three to extend the lead to five, Creighton freshman Marcus Zegarowski hit one of his own to get the score to 19-17 in favor of Ohio State.
Back to back treys from the firm of Woods & Washington pic.twitter.com/Y218MAkk3h— Land-Grant Holy Land (@Landgrant33) November 16, 2018
With Creighton looking to push the tempo on offense, Kaleb Wesson spent a large amount of time on the bench in the second 10 minutes of the game. This allowed the Buckeye defense to switch with a little more flexibility, turning the pressure up on the Bluejays.
After a pair of converted free throws by Creighton center Jacob Epperson, OSU freshman Jaedon Ledee, didn’t completely clear the end line when inbounding the ball, resulting in an unusual turnover for the Buckeyes.
With Woods continuing to set the pace for Ohio State — scoring seven of their nine points over a three minute period, when Kaleb Wesson returned to the game, he converted an offensive rebound into a bucket, and then on the next offensive possession, drew extra attention down low, allowing Washington to hit a long-two. Then the next time down the floor the Buckeye big man drained his own bucket from downtown to cap a huge first half, as Ohio State took a 37-25 lead into the locker room.
After starting 6 for their first 10, Creighton finished the half 3-for-11, while the Buckeyes went 13-23. More importantly for Ohio State, they shot 53.8 percent (7-13) in the first half. Woods led all scorers with 15 on 5-7 shooting (including 3-4 from deep), and he was followed by Washington with eight and Kaleb Wesson with seven.
Another key first half factor was that the Buckeyes held a 7-0 lead in second chance points. Though Creighton had four offensive rebounds, they hadn’t been able to convert on any of them.
Coming out of halftime, the Bluejays came out clicking offensively picking up three of the first four baskets of the half. However, Holtmann’s squad adjusted quickly with back-to-back layups by Luther Muhammad and Kaleb Wesson to push the lead back to double-figured, 43-32.
Nifty drive and finish by Luther Muhammad pic.twitter.com/JkMSJbstr0— Land-Grant Holy Land (@Landgrant33) November 16, 2018
However, the Bluejays weren’t going to give up easily. After an Andre Wesson three-pointer, Creighton hit back-to-back triples, while OSU turned the ball over four times in the first 7:20. Creighton was pushing the ball off of the Ohio State turnovers and picking up points in transition. After a Mitch Ballock layup, the home team cut the Buckeye lead to 46-42.
Then with 9:47 remaining in regulation Creighton guard Ty-Shon Alexander hit a corner three from right in front of his own bench to tie the game at 48, capping off a 14-2. The Buckeyes, who had been on fire in the first half, cooled off dramatically after intermission. Eleven and a half minutes in OSU had made only five of their 14 attempts from the floor, including only 1-of-5 from beyond the arc.
However, whenever Holtmann needed a bucket, the ball found the hands of Woods, and he delivered far more often than not.
Unfortunately, his backcourt mate, Jackson, was not as reliable. As the game went to the under-8 timeout with 6:37 remaining, the senior had 0 points, 4 assists, and 5 turnovers, however, he would get his redemption. The guard’s slump coincided with the Bluejays ratcheting up their defensive intensity, and with Kaleb Wesson on the bench to improve the defensive rotation, Creighton began to take control of the glass as well.
With 5:40 left in the second half, Martin Krampelj put back an offensive rebound to put Creighton back on top, 55-54. As the Buckeyes continued to fight back, Washington took it upon himself to score. On the possession following a Washington floater being waved off by his offensive foul, he hit a deep three to bring OSU within a point. Then, after a missed Creighton free throw, Woods found Jackson behind the arc who hit his first basket of the game to put the Buckeyes up 62-60.
Not a bad time to hit your first shot of the night pic.twitter.com/vgmSz8N3RZ— Land-Grant Holy Land (@Landgrant33) November 16, 2018
On the subsequent Bluejay possession, both Washington and Krampelj were whistled for double-fouls, resulting in the Creighton forward fouling out with 4 points and 7 rebounds. After the Buckeyes clamped down on defense, Woods found Young for a slam dunk to give OSU a four-point lead on an 8-0 run.
Back on defense, Muhammad stripped the ball, which bounced off the leg of Creighton guard Davion Mintz, giving possession back to the Buckeyes with 1:07 to go go and 64-60 advantage. Jackson followed up with a mid-lane baby hook to extend the lead to 66-60, and the Buckeyes would hold off the Bluejays from there, ending the game on a 13-0 run.
Woods finished the game with 19 points, followed by Washington with 12. These two contributed significantly to Ohio State’s 36-21 advantage in bench points. Though no other Buckeyes were in double-figures, all nine players that saw the floor for OSU got an entry in the scoring column. The late game run and Holtmann’s handling of the rotation — knowing when to use, and when not to use, Kaleb Wesson — spelled the difference in this game.
Alexander was the top scorer for the home team, turning in 16, and Mintz chipped in 12. Though Ohio State struggled to convert at the start of both halves, they ended up going 47.3 percent (26-55) from the floor, and ever so slightly better from deep, shooting 47.6 percent (10-21) from beyond the arc.
The Buckeyes will be back on the hardwood on Sunday, Nov. 18 as they will return to Value City Arena to host South Carolina State at 2 p.m. ET in a game to be broadcast on BTN Plus.