Two weeks ago, the Ohio State Buckeyes were a team very much on the bubble, and were trending in the wrong direction. But, they found their way to the NCAA Tournament. Now, they’ll be staying in Tulsa, Okla., for a couple more nights, as they toppled the No. 6 Iowa State Cyclones in the first round on Friday night.
The game wasn’t always pretty; in fact, with just under four minutes remaining, the Cyclones had the lead. However, OSU dug deep to regain — and maintain — the lead at the end, and that’s all that matters.
Kelvin Sampson’s No. 3 Houston Cougars are now on tap for the Bucks. The winner goes to the Sweet 16 in Kansas City next week. Before we look ahead to Sunday evening’s game, here are some thoughts from Friday’s very late win.
It Never Can Be Easy, Can It
Ohio State has had more than their fair share of close calls. They beat Bucknell by a bucket earlier in the year, and survived Indiana on the road. Rarely have the wins come easy.
Even the losses didn’t come easy. In a road game against Michigan State, the Bucks were in it until the final six minutes; that’s when the wheels fell off the wagon.
On Friday, a poor shooting mark in the first half left OSU with just a two-point lead at halftime. That was incredibly fortunate, considering ISU was shooting around 30 percent from the field. Then to close out the game, the Bucks went the final 2:44 without making a shot from the floor. Yet, somehow, they held on for the upset.
Three-point shooting was not a strong point for the Bucks. In fact, it made the game competitive in the first half. Overall, OSU was 5-of-20 from downtown for the game. In a way, it’s impressive they got to that mark. Of the first eight shots from distance, only one went through. The only member of the squad that was feeling it from three-range was Keyshawn Woods, who ended 3-of-6. Woods’ baskets were huge, as 12 of his 19 points came in the second half. Without those points, not only would the Buckeyes’ season have come to an end on Friday, but his collegiate career too.
Role players are always key ingredients for a March run; someone off the bench does something spectacular, which in turn keeps the season alive. It wasn’t a bench player against Iowa State, but you could consider Musa Jallow’s 11 points being out of character — in a good way.
More points from Jallow, Woods, and other unlikely scorers are just part of the equation if Ohio State wants to keep dancing a little bit longer.
Hustle Plays Save the Day
It’s time to talk about the big puzzle piece that completed the Buckeyes’ winning scene in Tulsa. Kaleb Wesson had a monstrous day, compiling a team-leading 21 points and 12 rebounds. The younger Wesson led the charge, and ISU simply had no answer for him.
In fact, they didn’t really have an answer for anything down low. Ohio State led the offensive rebound margin 12-6, with Kaleb having five of them. He wasn’t the only Wesson collecting boards on the offensive end; his older brother Andre had three. Creating those second chances were huge, as OSU won that margin 12-8. That’s a four-point difference; they won the game by three. As the cliché says, “every point matters.”
Both teams turned the ball over 10 times. I kinda expected that because the pace, especially in the first half, was reckless at times. Passes were airmailed, guys weren’t protecting the ball up the floor, and tournament jitters were all part of the turnover equation.
With this group winning another win-or-go-home contest, it only helps down the stretch. The stakes are the same on Sunday, as a Buckeye win keeps the dream alive. It’ll be interesting to see how Houston responds, as they were eliminated in last year’s NCAA Tournament by a buzzer-beating shot from Michigan’s Jordan Poole.
The Cougars got the bitterest of exits last time around, and will assuredly be out for redemption this time. But will facing another Big Ten team evoke bad feelings? Especially if Kaleb Wesson is having a clinic on both sides of the ball, and the likes of C.J. Jackson and Woods catch fire from the floor?
Speaking of the Big Ten, the conference got eight teams into this year’s tournament. After the first round, seven of them had advanced. That’s a new record for the B1G, and one that signifies how strong the conference actually was this season.
7 Big Ten teams in the Round of 32 is the most ever.— Dave Revsine (@BTNDaveRevsine) March 23, 2019
Only the Wisconsin Badgers lost, and, in a way, they seemed like the most vulnerable team. An early exist in the Big Ten Tournament by the hands of Nebraska, combined with an Oregon team who ran the table and surprised a lot of people by winning the Pac-12 Tournament was a very bad mix for Wiscy. In their regular season finale against the Buckeyes, they squandered a 20-plus point lead before holding on in overtime.
Granted, none of the seven teams were No. 1 seeds. Three of those spots belonged to the ACC (Duke, North Carolina and Virginia) and all three schools pulled away in their respective tourney games after halftime. However, the ACC had two upset losses in the first round, with one of them being Minnesota (No. 10) over Louisville (No. 7).
Ohio State struggled mightily at times against conference foes throughout the season, but all of that experience paid off on Friday. They didn’t melt down the stretch, and were rewarded with a win against the reigning Big 12 Tournament champions. More importantly, their ticket is punched for one more game.