Coming off of a loss to Purdue on Wednesday evening, No. 20 Ohio State (6-1, 0-1) had an opportunity to close out their non-conference schedule on a high note if they could conquer the UCLA Bruins (5-2) in the CBS Sports Classic on Saturday. The Buckeyes struggled mightily with the size and physicality of the Boilermakers earlier in the week, but UCLA plays a different brand of basketball, and thus presented a unique challenge.
E.J. Liddell returned after missing the previous two games while dealing with mono, and finished with nine points and three rebounds. But the real story was the long-awaited return of Seth Towns, who checked into his first collegiate basketball game in almost three years today. He finished with no points on one shot attempt, but his final line today is far less important than the big picture: Seth Towns is back.
Ohio State led 39-38 at halftime, powered by Musa Jallow’s seven points, two rebounds, and two assists in the first 20 minutes. No Buckeye scored in double digits in the first half, but Jallow, Liddell, CJ Walker, and Duane Washington Jr. all scored six or more during the first stanza. As a unit, Ohio State shot 55.6% from the floor in the first half and were 5-of-13 from beyond the arc.
UCLA was led by Johnny Juzang’s eight points in the first half. The Bruins shot 14 free throws in the opening frame compared to Ohio State’s five, taking advantage of 11 Buckeyes fouls.
The two squads went punch-for-punch in the second half, with the Bruins opening up a six-point lead at the 12:40 mark before Justin Ahrens’ three-pointer brought it back to three. Chris Holtmann had to be satisfied with his team’s showing on the offensive end, as the Buckeyes shot 50% from the floor overall. But the Bruins crashed the offensive boards, snagging 18 of them during the contest, leading to 20 second-chance points and keeping them in the ballgame.
After trailing for much of the second half, Eugene Brown’s back-to-back three-pointers gave Ohio State a four-point lead with 4:37 to go that they never relinquished. The Buckeyes were led by Duane Washington Jr.’s 12 points, but six different Buckeyes scored eight or more points. UCLA was led by Cody Riley’s 15 points and five rebounds.
What were the key plays from Ohio State’s win on Saturday? Here are the moments that mattered:
Welcome back, E.J. Liddell!
Ohio State’s budding star wasted no time re-establishing himself right out of the gate, connecting on a three-pointer on the Buckeyes’ first possession of the game to give them a 3-0 lead; that triple was his first of the season. Moments later, he intercepted a UCLA pass that was intended for Chris Smith for his seventh steal of the season. Liddell recorded 13 steals last season.
The Moose is gettin’ loose
Musa Jallow looks fully recovered from the lower leg injury that bothered him earlier this season. With the game tied at 12 at the 13:24 mark of the first half, Jallow glassed-in a long two-point jumper that in all honesty, should not have dropped in. On the very next possession Duane Washington Jr. found Jallow in the corner for a three-pointer, that he promptly sunk. The 5-0 Jallow-run gave Ohio State a 17-12 lead at the 12:54 mark of the first half.
Everybody eats (on the offensive glass)!
At the 10:06 mark E.J. Liddell missed a layup attempt, but immediately grabbed the miss and tried to put it back up, but was met with stout defense and the ball caromed towards the free throw line. Jallow grabbed the second offensive rebound of the possession and found Washington Jr. for an open three-pointer, giving the Buckeyes a 22-16 lead.
On the ensuing possession, UCLA mirrored the Buckeyes, grabbing their own miss twice before finding an open Jake Kyman for the triple, cutting the lead back to 22-19. Washington then punched back for the Buckeyes, hitting his second straight three to push the Buckeyes’ lead to six yet again.
@dwizthekid4 hits back-to-back triples for @OhioStateHoops! pic.twitter.com/9Yogu8XAR9— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) December 19, 2020
Welcome back, Seth Towns!
With the Buckeyes leading 35-34 at the 2:58 mark of the first half, Seth Towns checked into a basketball game for the first time since March 11, 2018. He played 2:30 in the first half and missed his only shot attempt, but he looked comfortable running and jumping on the knee that has kept him off the court for the last 33 months.
Seth Towns checks in for his #Buckeyes debut. pic.twitter.com/ClKKrXCLx3— Adam Jardy (@AdamJardy) December 19, 2020
Ohio State clung to a 39-38 lead at halftime.
At the 16:26 mark of the second half, with Ohio State hanging on to a 43-40 lead, UCLA’s missed shot attempt was coming down off of the iron for an easy Ohio State rebound, but Young and Sueing collided with each other jostling for the board. It bounced off Sueing, and UCLA retained possession. UCLA’s Cody Riley scored moments later off of the possession Ohio State gifted them, cutting the lead to just one point.
Jallow on both ends
In addition to his eight points, Jallow also contributed three rebounds, three assists, one steal, and one block. With 9:11 left in the game and Ohio State trailing 58-56, Jallow stole a UCLA pass and took it all the way to the other end, before he was fouled and sent to the free throw line. Jallow knocked down one-of-two free throws, helping inch the Buckeyes closer to UCLA.
Liddell fouls out
With the Buckeyes trailing 60-59 and just over seven minutes remaining in the game, Liddell fouled UCLA’s Cody Riley, his fifth of the game. Liddell finished with nine points, three rebounds and an assist in 19 minutes before fouling out.
Downtown Eugene Brown
Averaging 1.8 points in less than 10 minutes per game this season, Brown chose his spots against the Bruins, hitting crucial 3-pointers when the Buckeyes needed them most. His triple in the first half gave Ohio State a 33-32 lead, and then he connected from beyond the arc on back-to-back possessions to give the Buckeyes a nice 69-65 lead with 4:37 to go.
Earn it at the stripe
The Buckeyes only took five free throws in the first half, but thanks to their relentless attack of the basket in the second stanza they were rewarded with 21 attempts at the line. Overall, the Buckeyes were 19-26 from the charity stripe, with free throws accounting for 15 of their 38 points after the break.
Ohio State’s next action on the hardwood will come Wednesday afternoon vs No. 19 Rutgers (5-0, 1-0) at home. The Scarlet Knights return basically their whole team from last season, who would have likely made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1991 had the whole tournament not been cancelled. Tipoff is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on BTN.