After a week off to lick its wounds, Ohio State (9-2, 1-1) arrived in Atlanta Saturday afternoon looking to knock off UCLA (5-4) in the CBS Sports Classic for the second consecutive time and get back to its winning ways. The Buckeyes squandered an 18-point lead against Penn State last weekend, ultimately losing that one 83-80 and suffering its first Big Ten loss of the year.
Villanova, despite playing without its second-leading scorer Justin Moore, held UCLA to just 56 points last weekend, handing the Bruins their third loss of the year. UCLA has really struggled offensively this year, failing to crack 70 points in five of its nine games. The Bruins have scored fewer than 70 points in all four of its losses.
Chris Holtmann, looking to keep his perfect 4-0 record against Mick Cronin intact, went with a starting five of Bruce Thornton, Roddy Gayle, Evan Mahaffey, Felix Okpara, and Jamison Battle — the same five he’s rolled with all year. Cronin went with Dylan Andrews, Lazar Stefanovic, Sebastian Mack, Aday Mara, and Adem Bona.
This game was played at UCLA’s pace early on, with the Buckeyes leading 6-4 at the first media timeout. The Bruins’ choice to start both Mara and Bona gave Ohio State some issues in their halfcourt offense, but also hurt UCLA, as guys like Devin Royal and Mahaffey forced the Spanish 7-footer to move around and take a few jump shots that he typically doesn’t like taking.
The snail’s pace continued for the entire first half — which could be good or bad for the Buckeyes, depending on you look at things. On one hand, UCLA was dicatating the pace of play, but Ohio State still had a 12-10 lead at the under-eight timeout. On the other hand, players not named Roddy Gayle started this game by shooting 2-of-13 combined. UCLA, meanwhile, hit just five of its first 20 shots. The Bruins’ defense is legit, but so too were its offensive struggles.
By halftime, the Bruins had eeked out a 23-22 lead. Both teams shot sub-40% in the first half. The two teams combined for two fast break points and 10 second-chance points. Ohio State committed 10 turnovers in the opening stanza, many of which were forced by the likes of Andrews, Mack, and Nwuba. Gayle led all first-half scorers with eight points in that nasty first half of basketball.
The two squads continued to trade misses throughout the second half, with the Bruins clinging to a 38-37 lead at the under-12 media timeout. The Bruins had the Buckeyes chasing for a good chunk of the second half, although the largestlead for either team was foour points by this point in the game. It felt like the first team to find a way to go up by seven or eight was going to win it, but neither team wanted to string enough baskets together to make that happen.
From the 10:02 mark to 7:55, every basket made in the game resulted in a lead change. Bonner gave Ohio State a 42-41 lead, followed by Bona making it 43-42 Bruins, followed by Battle making it 44-43 Buckeyes, followed by Bona making it 45-44 Bruins, followed by Bonner making it 46-45 Buckeyes, followed by Bona (again) making it 47-46 Bruins, followed by Thornton making it 48-47 Buckeyes with 7:53 remaining in the game.
The Buckeyes clung to a 53-50 lead at the final media timeout with 3:33 left in the game, and were able to push it out to six points a minute later. Although the Buckeyes never really got into their groove offensively and only hit one three-pointer, they were able to hang on and beat a tough, defensive-minded UCLA team 67-60 in the CBS Sports Classic Saturday afternoon.
Gayle led Ohio State with 19 points on 6-of-11 shooting in 28 minutes. He also had six rebounds, one steal, and four turnovers. Battle (14), Thornton (13), and Okpara (10) also scored in double digits for Ohio State, which shot 56% in the second half after knocking down just 35% of its shots in the first half.
Mack had 14 points for UCLA on 5-of-16 shooting in 33 minutes. Andrews (13) and Bona (12) were both in double digits as well for the Bruins, which shot better in the second half, but still only knocked down 38% of its shots on Saturday afternoon.
If you weren’t around today to catch Ohio State’s bounce-back win in Atlanta Saturday afternoon, here are a few key moments and plays that helped push the Buckeyes to their ninth win of the year:
Royal getting some early run
After not playing at all against Penn State, Columbus-native Devin Royal was Ohio State’s first sub in against UCLA just over four minutes into the game. There have been times this year where Royal looked sped up and not quite ready for the bright lights, but Holtmann must’ve liked the option to bring some size in with the Bruins essentially starting two centers on Saturday.
Royal didn’t score in this game, but he did make an impactful defensive play early on. At the 12:23 mark of the first half, Dale Bonner missed a three-pointer, and UCLA’s Kenneth Nwuba came down with the rebound below the basket. As Nwuba grabbed the ball, Royal jumped in and poked it away, causing Nwuba to react quickly and try to secure it, but he ended up just poking it out of bounds, returning the ball to the Buckeyes.
Another #HotRod sighting, but not much else
Gayle was the only player for either team finding any success early on, with the sophomore guard knocking down four of his first five shots. After Ohio State went up 8-4 with 15:11 left in the first half, the Buckeyes did not score again until the 10:16 mark, when Gayle used the glass to drop in a little floater and give the Buckeyes another two-point lead. He scored again 44 seconds later with a layup, putting his team up 12-8 in the slow-moving contest.
Williams gives UCLA first lead of the day
The Bruins trailed for the first 13:58 of this game until freshman guard Brandon Williams dropped in a layup to tie it, and then another bucket 46 seconds later to give them their first lead of the day, 16-14. Williams entered this game having scored just five total points this year, but had four in a span of 46 seconds against the Buckeyes in a crucial moment for UCLA.
Williams finished the game with those four points, plus two rebounds, two steals, and one assist over 17 minutes.
Thornton takes 19 minutes to get on the scoreboard
With 75 family and friends in the stands to see him play, Ohio State guard Bruce Thornton struggled mightily in the first half of Saturday’s game. Thornton was 0-for-8 shooting in the first half, and didn’t see the ball go into the basket until he was fouled by a Jan Vide shooting a three-pointer with 1:12 remaining in the first half. Thornton knocked down two of the three free throws to give Ohio State a brief lead.
Thornton rushed a few three-pointers in the first half, but just generally looked uncomfortable and rushed with Andrews and Mack in his face during the first half. It was without a doubt his worst half of basketball this season.
He got it going in the second half, however, scoring 11 points in the second half on 4-of-7 shooting. For the game, Thornton ended with 13 points, seven rebounds, four assists, and one steal.
McClendon’s three puts UCLA up 36-33, first made three for either team
Although UCLA doesn’t take very many, the two teams combined go to 0-for-17 from beyond the arc over the first 26 or so minutes of this one. With the game tied 33-33 and 14:11 remaining in the game, Will McClendon knocked down a triple from the opposite wing from his team’s bench to put the Bruins up, 36-33. It was the first made three-pointer for either team in the game. McClendon finished the game with seven points, six rebounds, one assist, and one steal.
Bona’s turnover leads to an Okpara dunk at the other end
With Ohio State up 55-51 and 3:02 remaining in the game, Bona was called for a questionable three-second violation near the elbow. Even the broadcasters weren’t sure what to make of that call, but before they could expand on the call, Ohio State went the other way and Thornton found Okpara with a lob and slam to put the Buckeyes up 57-51. With 2:47 remaining in the game, Ohio State’s six-point lead was the largest lead of the day for either team.
Bona had 11 points in the second half, and finished with a dozen points and six rebounds in 25 minutes. Okpara finished with 10 points — his second time scoring in double digits this season.
Ohio State (9-2, 1-1) gets four days off before coming home to face the New Orleans Privateers (5-6) Thursday night in Columbus. The Privateers enter that game as the No. 283 team in the nation according to KenPom — the third-lowest team on Ohio State’s schedule this year, ahead of Western and Central Michigan(s).
The Buckeyes’ game against the Privateers will tip off at an abnormally early 6:00 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center, and will be broadcast on BTN+.