COLUMBUS — Transfer guard Tanner Holden hit a three-pointer from the wing with no time left on the clock to give No. 25 Ohio State (7-2, 1-0) a 67-66 win over Rutgers (6-3, 1-1). It was Holden’s lone basket of the game.
Leading 66-64 with five seconds remaining, Rutgers guard Caleb McConnell missed the second of two free throws, allowing freshman forward Brice Sensabaugh to grab the rebound and get it up to freshman point guard Bruce Thornton. Thornton was nearly pushed out of bounds near the scorer’s table, but he got a pass off to Holden, who immediately heaved up a three that was on line from the time he dialed it up.
“It was actually pretty crazy,” Holden said after the game, unsure if he actually saw the ball go through the net. He quickly understood, however, when the crowd erupted and his teammates mobbed him.
Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann stuck stoicly near the scorer’s table as he waited for the official decision that the shot was, in fact, good.
Aside from the game-winner, the Buckeyes were led by junior center Zed Key who posted a game-high 22 points and 14 rebounds against talented Rutgers center Clifford Omoruyi. Omoruyi scored 16 points and grabbed eight rebounds.
The Buckeyes were without starting guard Isaac Likekele who will miss some time due to a family situation. In his stead, freshman forward Brice Sensabaugh was in the starting lineup and he responded with 13 points and some of his best defense of the year.
Freshman point guard Bruce Thornton added 10 points, four rebounds, five assists, and a couple of hellacious plays down the stretch as he took a charge and secured a loose ball in a scrum.
While the second half was tight throughout, the first half was a game of runs.
Rutgers began the night on an 11-5 run through the first four minutes of the game, but the Buckeyes responded with a 14-0 run that featured three-pointers from Sensabaugh and Sean McNeil, three layups from Key, and a fourth layup from McNeil.
A three-pointer from Rutgers forward Dean Reiber finally stopped the run, cutting OSU’s lead to 19-14 with 12:21 left in the first half. Key continued his dominance, however, scoring six of the Buckeyes’ next eight points. A dunk with 5:33 remaining gave Ohio State a 26-18 lead. From there, however, the Scarlet Knights closed the half on another 11-5 run to make it 31-29 OSU at the half.
Key had 15 points and eight rebounds at halftime.
Rutgers immediately tied the game to start the half with a jumper from Omoruyi. The Buckeyes grabbed the lead back and held the Scarlet Knights at wrist’s length for a while until a dunk by Aundre Hyatt at the 13:10 mark of the second half gave Rutgers their first lead since the first five minutes of the game.
Turnovers began plaguing the Buckeyes down the stretch, but the Scarlet Knights couldn’t capitalize as much as they would have liked. They weren’t able to build a lead beyond two points, and that lead went away following a three from Justice Sueing to make it 56-55 with 5:19 to play.
Rutgers went right back to work, however, feeding the ball to Omoruyi for a dunk. Sueing then had the ball stripped from him the next time down the court. Again, the Scarlet Knights couldn’t capitalize and Omoruyi picked up his fourth foul on a rebound attempt with 4:19 remaining. Key went to the line for a one-and-one and split the pair, tying the game at 57-57.
With the scored tied 59-59, Sensabaugh came around a screen and drained a three-pointer with 2:41 to play, but it was waved off due to an illegal screen by Key.
Rutgers built up a 65-62 lead with seven seconds left, and rather than allow Ohio State to get off a possible game-tying three-pointer, they fouled Thornton. Thornton made both of his free throws to cut the lead to one. The Buckeyes then fouled McConnell on the ensuing possession, but since he only made one of his free throws and the lead only stood at two points, Rutgers couldn’t foul.
The missed free throw then allowed the Buckeyes to attempt the game-winner.
- The Buckeyes were undermanned tonight with guard Isaac Likekele out while tending to a family situation. This put more pressure on freshman point guard Bruce Thornton to handle the ball against a physical defense. Thornton isn’t squeamish when it comes to that style of ball and he held up fairly well. He had some turnovers, but as we have seen this season, the moments and games have yet to be too big for him. He drained a bail-out three in the second half to keep the Buckeyes in front, and then later he took a charge and also secured a loose ball and got a timeout called.
- With Isaac Likekele out, freshman forward Brice Sensabaugh was inserted into the starting lineup and he ended up playing a season-high in minutes. More importantly, he played his best defensive game of the season. It wasn’t always crisp, and there were moments of confusion, but the effort and execution was there more than it has been much of the time this year. It’s a game that Sensabaugh can grow from. It wasn’t a coincidence that he finished with a team-high +/- of +12.
- There have been other Ohio State teams that have led games throughout only to see the lead finally go away and then see the lead really go away. The Buckeyes lost the lead in this one but they never lost themselves. They stayed engaged and they continued to fight defensively. We have seen them do that throughout the year, even when they’ve been overmatched. The fact that this team isn’t folding is a great sign for the future, but also an indication of the toughness they’re playing with right now.