Following Ohio State’s 78-70 win over Dayton last weekend in their charity exhibition game, point guard Bruce Thornton was asked about a stretch during the second half where the Buckeyes looked completely lost. Thanks to Ohio State turning the ball over six times out of seven possessions over a four-minute stretch early in the second half, Dayton was able to take a nine-point deficit and turn it into a 52-52 tie with 12 minutes remaining.
But moments after Marvel Allen tied it up for Dayton with a couple of free throws, Roddy Gayle came back at the other end and banged home a three to put the Buckeyes up, 55-52 once again. Chris Holtmann immediately called timeout. Ohio State did not trail again from this point on.
Last season, a young Ohio State team may not have had the maturity to pause, stop the bleeding, and then put their foot back on the gas pedal to win the game. Last season’s team may have let Dayton’s 9-0 run turn into a 13-0 or 16-3 run, and then let the game get away from them while the opposing crowd roared on every side of them.
“Us going six for seven (possessions) with no scoring but turnovers, but then come back, stay composed, and keep playing through it. That’s a good sign,” Thornton said. “You got to find a way to keep your composure and find a way to win.”
Ohio State has had a top-20 offense in the country each of the last four seasons, according to KenPom. But anyone who has spent any time watching this program knows that it also is prone to prolonged stretches of confusion and poor shot selection. Far too often, Ohio State will follow a good 10-12 minute stretch with a seven or eight minute stretch where it only scores a few points on free throws and nothing more, while watching its opponent claw back into a game that appeared over not too long before. The moment gets too big, the lights get too bright, and mistakes start to compound on themselves.
That’s why Thornton’s response was telling — he didn’t spend much time talking about the turnovers or the poor stretch where things began to get out of hand. “Offense just takes a minute. It takes everyone (a minute) for their rhythm, their timing,” he said. “So you understand all that, but we knew it wasn’t going to be perfect (tonight).”
“It’s a road game. When they go on a run, you have to keep your composure and keep the team together,” he added. “We all knew this was the first time we’d all played with each other against someone else in a road environment. So I feel like this was a great experience, great cause for mental health and I feel like it was a good day today.”
It was a pointed response from a guy who was a freshman last season, and at times played like you’d expect a freshman point guard to play. Thornton exceeded everyone’s expectations, but even he wasn’t immune to turnovers, poor shot selection, and defensive lapses at times. He’s expected to take a massive leap this season leading Ohio State as a captain once again, and pointing out how his team responded to that poor stretch, rather than dwelling on the mistakes, was a captain-like response.
This team cannot afford to turn the ball over 16 times in any game this season, especially once conference play begins. Ball security will be paramount for Ohio State’s success, and will be scrutinized even more than last season with senior Dale Bonner now in the mix, as well as Gayle and Thornton, who are sophomores but “really aren’t sophomores” in the eyes of head coach Chris Holtmann.
After getting thrown into the fire last season and learning on the job, Holtmann thinks his sophomore guards resemble seasoned vets at this point. And unfortunately for Gayle and Thornton, being a seasoned vet comes with higher standards. 16 turnovers — that ain’t gonna cut it.
Despite the turnovers, Ohio State won the game. It didn’t count, but Ohio State beat a very good Dayton team that is the unanimous choice by everyone to win the A-10 this season by eight points on their home court. Dayton head coach Anthony Grant did not play his starters as much as he will during the season, but neither did Chris Holtmann.
There were no Ohio State fans there. It was loud. Things started to spiral a bit, and the offense looked lost. But Thornton, Gayle, and their teammates put on their big boy pants, did not let the moment get too big, and hung in there to win the (exhibition) game on the road.
Would last year’s team have done the same? Not likely. Should anything that happened in an exhibition game that -literally- did not count fouls be taken seriously? Maybe not. But for a split second, UD Arena was rocking and felt like a big time road environment. It was Ohio State’s first test of the season.