In the Ohio State Men’s Basketball team’s second game in two days, the Buckeyes will take on Santa Clara (6-0) in the championship game of the Emerald Coast Classic in Destin, Fla., at Northwest Florida College.
The Buckeyes (4-1) secured a huge win on Friday in the first round of the bracket portion of the Emerald Coast Classic, upsetting No. 17 Alabama (4-1) 92-81 in what was easily the top performance of the year by Ohio State. The Buckeyes defeated Western Michigan 73-56 in the campus game of the tournament last Sunday.
Santa Clara took down the Oregon Ducks 88-82 in another high-scoring semifinal to set up the matchup with Ohio State. The Broncos have had a solid start to its season, starting 6-0 and defeating Stanford 89-77 earlier this season. They defeated Southeastern Louisiana in the campus game portion of the tournament.
The Buckeyes and the Broncos will face off for a first-place finish in the Emerald Coast Classic.
A career performance by Bruce Thornton and Roddy Gayle Jr. led the Buckeyes past the offensive juggernaut Crimson Tide.
Thornton recorded a career-high 29 points on 6-for-12 shooting from the field and 4-for-6 shooting from three-point range over 35 minutes against the Crimson Tide. Thornton added four assists, three rebounds, and only two turnovers. Most impressively, Thornton was 13-for-14 from the free-throw line and helped the Buckeyes ice the game late.
Gayle recorded a career-high 23 points on 8-for-11 shooting, four rebounds, and three assists. Gayle was also 6-for-6 from the free-throw line in 36 minutes on the floor against Alabama.
Starting center Felix Okpara played with foul trouble for much of the second half, but still was able to record 10 rebounds in 18 minutes — although he scored just two points on one made basket. Zed Key had another impressive showing as the sixth man, recording 11 points and three rebounds in 21 minutes off the bench.
Grant Nelson led Alabama with 20 points and six rebounds over 32 minutes. Alabama entered the game as the nation’s leading three-point and scoring team, shooting better than 49% from beyond the arc and averaging 101 points per game. Against the Buckeyes, they were 9-of-30 from beyond the arc (30%) and scored 81 points.
Through five games, Bruce Thornton is averaging 18.0 points per game, and Roddy Gayle is averaging 16.4 points per game. The two talented sophomores have cemented themselves as one of the top backcourts in the conference.
Santa Clara was led by guard Adama Bal against Oregon, who doubled his scoring average, recording 25 points on 10-for-14 shooting. The junior guard was averaging 12 points per game before blowing up on Friday night. Center Christoph Tilly added 18 points on 7-for-9 shooting, and Tyeree Bryan and Carlos Marshall added 12 points each.
Even with the win Friday night, Santa Clara is still No. 95 in KenPom, and is sitting outside the top 100 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They were picked to finish fifth in the WCC, but to this point have shown the “experts” that perhaps they were picked a bit too low.
Santa Clara is a solid team, but Ohio State is likely the best team they will have faced to this point in the season.
Ohio State might have found a secret to its success this season in the Alabama game. They beat Alabama at its own game, scoring in transition, winning the rebounding battle, and using that to get out on offense and down the court quickly, setting up transition baskets and forcing fouls. In the past, Ohio State has not had the personnel to play that way, but with the way Bruce Thornton, Roddy Gayle, Evan Mahaffey, and Dale Bonner run the floor, they can implement it a bit more this year.
Taison Chatman was able to get on the floor for a minute in this contest, his first appearance of the season. He will be gently rotated in, but it was promising to see that he is ready for any type of game action.
Jamison Battle played 27 minutes but was not a factor late in Friday’s game, and only shot 2-for-7 from the field and 1-for-5 from three-point range. They will need him to be more of a contributor as teams start to key in on Thornton and Gayle, and a third and fourth scorer needs to emerge.
Ohio State is coming in off its two best performances of the season, and I think they will keep it rolling, winning the Emerald Coast Classic and really using this two-game stretch to propel them into some big games in December.
Time: 7 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network