In a pair of eerily similar games at Madison Square Garden, Ohio State came away with one win, one loss, a third-place finish, and an encouraging overall performance. Despite losing on Thursday night to North Carolina, the Buckeyes have a lot to build on following their showing in the 2k Sports Classic.
Semi-final Match: OSU vs. UNC
Things didn’t start off so well for Ohio State. After dispatching Alcorn State and James Madison, the Bucks faced off with the defending NCAA champs on Thursday night. UNC lost several key players after last season, and it was unclear if they would be able to replace the production. In case anyone is still wondering, the Tarheels are going to be just fine this year.
UNC used a smothering defense and hot shooting to capitalize on OSU’s early mistakes, and built a 10-pointlead in the first 6 minutes of play. That ballooned to as high as 16 thanks to a sloppy start by Ohio State. In addition to turning the ball over 8 times, the Buckeyes were ice cold from the floor, going 1 of 10 from beyond the arc and shooting only 29% overall. At the break, they were down 14, and hadn’t shown any rhythm offensively. Their leader on the floor, Evan Turner, had a rough first half, hitting 3 of his 7 shots and coughing up the ball 5 times. The Tarheels’ Marcus Ginyard was very effective in controlling Turner, and as I mentioned in my preview, Ohio State’s odds of winning hinged partly on its ability to minimize Ginyard’s defensive impact. So the first 30 minutes were mostly bad news.
And coming out of the break, it looked to be more of the same.
Ohio State opened the second half hitting only 3 of their first 12 shots, and with under 13 minutes remaining, the Tarheels had actually extended their lead to 17. Then, mercifully, the Bucks’ offense finally woke up. Perhaps that’s too mild a term. Let’s say it caught fire. Although the Tarheels were still shooting well, Ohio State hit on 12 of its next 14 field goal attempts and went 9 of 10 from the line to trim the lead to 5 points. The offensive explosion completely changed the game’s momentum, but had also taken nearly 12 minutes off the clock. Following a Carolina timeout, Ohio State had two critical misses from the floor, and while they ended up converting on the possession, time was now against them. After Carolina’s Larry Drew was fouled by Turner, he missed on his second free throw attempt. A rebound by the Buckeyes’ Dallas Lauderdale led to a Jon Diebler 3-pointer which cut the lead to 2.
Unfortunately, the rally fell just that short.
Drew, who was nearly the goat after missing 4 of 6 free throw attempts, made a pair from the line in the final seconds to push the lead back to the final score of 77-73.
While they couldn’t complete the comeback, the Buckeyes should take a lot of encouragement from the way they played in the second half. What looked like a laugher for UNC got serious pretty quickly thanks to a Buckeye hot stretch proving that Ohio State can compete with the nation’s elite. The Bucks went 5 of 11 from 3-point range and shot nearly 57% from the floor in the second half. Despite his turnover trouble, Evan Turner finished with a double-double and led the team in points (23), rebounds, assists, and steals. Diebler (17) and Lighty (11) both contributed double-digits, and overall the team came together well after the slow start. Even so, the loss relegated the Buckeyes to the tournament’s consolation game against Cal, who lost to Syracuse in the other semi.
Third-Place Game: OSU vs. Cal
The consolation game ended up being strikingly similar to the loss to UNC, except this time the roles were reversed. Ohio State led throughout, but had to survive a scare as the Golden Bears rallied late in the game.
In stark contrast to their start against the Tarheels, the Buckeyes shot well in first half, hitting 5 of 11 3-point attampts and making more than 48% of their shots overall. They held Cal to less than 36% shooting and forced 10 turnovers while losing only 3 of their own. The improved ball security was a major factor in the reversal of fortune as the Buckeyes were able to capitalize on mistakes rather than trying to recover from them. A 7-0 run sparked by a William Buford 3-pointer ended the half and secured OSU’s double-digit lead.
Against the ‘Heels, OSU had trailed 38-24 at the break; against the Bears they were up 38-25. In the UNC game, Ohio State’s slow start had extended into the second-half, allowing Carolina to run the lead to as much as 19 before the comeback began. Against Cal, the Buckeyes went on a 21-3 run that grew their lead to 24 points before Cal rallied.
Up 52-28 with less than 16 minutes remaining, the Buckeyes finally cooled off. Over the next twelve minutes, they had only 7 attemps from the field while Cal shot 12 of 21. The span was highlighted by the Bears’ 17-4 run and the lead was cut to as few as 8 points. Up by 10 with less than 3 minutes remaining, the Buckeyes hit their final two shots and sank 5 free throws to ice the game. OSU shot 51% overall, and even with the second-half swoon put together a much more complete performance then it did against UNC.
Four Buckeye players scored double digits, led by Evan Turner’s 26. Turner shot 64% from the field and had his fourth double-doulbe in four games. He again led the team in rebounds (14) and assists (6), but David Lighty’s 3 steals were a team high in that category.
Despite going 1-1 in the two matchups, Ohio State can find plenty of reason for optimism. They overcame poor shooting and a lack of ball security to nearly upset one of the nation’s top teams. They then rebounded from that close loss to control the Bears, ranked #12 by USA Today and #13 by the AP. These two games showed that Ohio State is on par with top teams from other power conferences, and the results should be enough to allow the #15 Bucks to retain a good ranking going into next week.
With the 2K Sports Classic behind them, the Buckeyes have a couple of easy matchups against Lipscomb and St. Francis (PA) before facing Florida State. Facing competition at the level of UNC and Cal should give the team some early-seaosn confidence, and certainly helped Thad Matta to pinpoint what his team needs to work on. Most notably, the Buckeyes need to improve on their consistency.
“We had a stretch where I think we lost our composure, and they were able to get it to a double-digit lead,” said coach Thad Matta following the loss to UNC. “Hopefully we learned a lesson there getting ourselves ready to go right from the start.”
After the victory over Cal, Matta again pointed out the importance of playing a strong 40 minutes. “They made a run, they knocked us on our heels…All of a sudden we lost our composure in a lot of different ways especially on the defensive end and that let them in the game.”