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Ohio State withstands poor shooting, defeats UCLA 80-66

The Buckeyes get their second win of the season at the United Center.

NCAA Basketball: UCLA at Ohio State David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday, the No. 15 Ohio State Buckeyes (11-1, 2-0) traveled to the Second City to open up the 2018 CBS Sports Classic, and they left Chicago with a 80-66 victory over the UCLA Bruins (7-5). Chris Holtmann made a slight change in OSU’s starting lineup with Keyshawn Woods replacing Kyle Young, but the story early was not the new rotation, but the sloppy play by the Buckeyes in the first half.

Thanks in part to UCLA’s zone, the Buckeyes were plagued by poor shooting and turnovers in the first 20 minutes, keeping the game tight into the second half. However, after the break, Holtmann made substantive changes to his team’s offensive philosophy that allowed them to eventually build a double-digit led.

The Buckeyes started the game going inside to Kaleb Wesson early and often. He missed his first attempt and picked up a quick foul, but he rebounded nicely, scoring OSU’s first five points. From there, C.J. Jackson turned the ball over at the top of the key on back-to-back possessions, allowing UCLA to get out to a small lead at 8-5.

Holtmann replaced the senior guard with Young, who made an impact right away, slamming down an outlet pass and pulling in a pair of defensive rebounds in his first few minutes in the game. Then, a little more than six minutes into the game, Young banked in the free throw on an old-fashioned three-point play to pull the Buckeyes even with the Bruins at 13.

While free throws kept the Buckeyes in the game during the first 10 minutes, their shooting was abysmal, going 5-for-14 (35.7%) from the field in the first 9:07, including 1-for-4 (25%) from beyond the arc.

The Bruin zone — much like the one run by Syracuse in November — seemed to stymie the Buckeye offense. Jackson wasn’t the only one out of sorts; in total, OSU surrendered seven turnovers in the first half, which led to eight UCLA points. However, the Bruins returned the favor, turning it over 12 times for nine Buckeye points in the first half.

Despite the sloppiness and rough shooting, thanks to Kaleb Wessons’ dominant performance on both sides of the floor, and a pair of jumpers by freshmen Duane Washington Jr. and Luther Muhammad in the last minute and change, Ohio State was able to take a 33-30 lead into halftime.

The younger Wesson brother led the Buckeyes in scoring at intermission with 10 (to go along with six rebounds) and Muhammad had seven. Kris Wilkes led all scorers at the half with 13 points for UCLA. OSU went into the locker room hitting just 13 of its 36 attempts from the field (36.1%), while the Bruins shot 48.3 percent (14-29).

After halftime, it was clear that Holtmann’s plan to attack the zone was to get behind it. Kaleb Wesson found Young in the baseline a couple of times, and Jackson found Woods behind the defense on a bit of a break, to give the Buckeyes their largest lead at 40-34.

After a timeout called by UCLA coach Steve Alford, Bruin guard Jaylen Hands missed a three-pointer, leading to Andre Wesson connecting on the subsequent possession, increasing the lead to nine.

Just about five minutes into the half, Woods took a charge from UCLA junior guard Prince Ali (yes, that’s his name) and had to be helped off the floor, as he was holding his head from the contact. However, after a media timeout, he stayed in the game.

Continuing the effort to get behind the zone, from behind the three-point line, Washington lobbed the pall across the court, connecting with Young who slammed it home on the alley-oop; putting the Buckeyes up 47-39.

With just under 11 minutes left in regulation, UCLA’s Cody Riley picked up his third foul, following a Kaleb Wesson rebound. Riley stayed in the game with nine points, behind only Wilkes’ 14 for the Bruins.

Despite getting the lead up to nine in the second half, Ohio State continued to struggle shooting the ball from everywhere on the floor. At the under-eight media timeout, OSU had hit only 22 of its 59 attempts from the field (37.3%), including 6-of-21 (28.6%) from deep, and 7-of-14 (50%) from the charity stripe. However, things turned around — and in a big way — from there.

The Buckeye bigs, Young and Kaleb Wesson, combined for 22 of OSU’s 57 points, but Wesson picked up his fourth foul with 6:58 remaining, sending him to the bench as Holtmann went small.

The guard-heavy lineup paid immediate dividends, with an unbelievable, half-court alley-oop from Woods to Young, a Jackson triple, and a pair of Andre Wesson free throws put the Bucks up by 15, 68-53.

While it was not a perfect performance in the Windy City, one of the most impressive aspects of the Buckeyes’ win was that they finished the game with 26 assists on 28 baskets.

Perhaps even more staggering, after going 1-for-5 in the first 20 minutes, Jackson finished the game leading all scorers with 22. Kaleb Wesson also had an impressive game with 15 points and a career-high 12 rebounds. Young joined them in double-figures with 11.

For the Bruins, Wilkes led the way with 18 points and 7 boards, while Hands went for 13 points and 9 assists, and Riley contributed 10 of his own.

Thanks to the remarkable surge in shooting to close out the game, OSU finished with a shooting percentage of 41.8 percent (28-67), which means that they six of their last eight field goal attempts — including both of their three-point attempts — and they were a perfect nine-for-nine from the free throw line in the final eight minutes.

The Buckeyes will wrap up their non-conference season by taking on the High Point Panthers on Saturday, Dec. 29 at noon ET.