Basketball, Uncategorized

Buckeyes Hold Off Upset-Minded Cornell In 88-83 First-Round NIT Win

COLUMBUS — It was never easy, but Ohio State (21-13) secured an 88-83 win over Cornell (22-8) in the first round of the NIT, giving new head coach Jake Diebler his first win since having his interim tag removed as the Buckeyes’ full-time head coach.

Diebler was introduced as OSU’s new head coach on Monday, and one day later he had his Buckeyes on the court in what has been a whirlwind week for the Ohio State basketball program.

Ohio State had four scorers in double figures, led by sophomore guard Roddy Gayle and senior forward Jamison Battle with 17 points each. Sophomore center Felix Okpara added 16 and freshman forward Devin Royal scored 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting.

The game was much closer than it needed to be, thanks in large part to the Buckeyes shooting 8-of-18 on layups and 13-of-22 from the free throw line.

Ohio State also had trouble dealing with Cornell’s tempo throughout the game as the Big Red pushed the tempo and put OSU’s defense to the test with back cuts and extra passes. Every Buckeye run was answered with a flurry of Cornell three-pointers to keep things even for much of the way.

The Big Red actually led 19-9 through eight minutes of action. It took a 10-0 run from the Buckeyes to eventually grab a 26-24 lead. Six of those points came from back-to-back threes from point guard Bruce Thornton. Cornell immediately answered with three-consecutive three-pointers from Guy Ragland, Ak Okereke, and Nazir Williams.

Ohio State then responded right back with consecutive threes from Thornton and freshman forward Devin Royal. Two minutes later, consecutive three-pointers from Jamison Battle made it 40-36 Buckeyes with two minutes remaining in the half.

The Ohio State lead grew to seven points early in the second half, but following a layup by Ragland with 16:46 left in the game, the lead would never get above five points. In fact, the lead disappeared entirely following a Ragland three-pointer to make it 55-54 Cornell with 13:56 remaining.

The lead went back and forth a bit, but the Big Red eventually built a 61-58 lead with their frenetic pace and some odd misses by the Buckeyes. A three from Roddy Gayle and back-to-back baskets by Felix Okpara gave Ohio State a 71-66 lead and seemingly all of the momentum.

Cornell clawed back to take a 76-75 lead following an Isaiah Gray layup with 3:14 remaining. With Ohio State trailing 81-79 in the final minute, Battle hit a baseline three-pointer to give OSU a one-point lead with 43 seconds left in the game. Cornell then turned the ball over on their next possession and Devin Royal scored on a layup from a baseball pass on the inbound play.

A blown layup by Gray led to an OSU rebound and a foul, sending Dale Bonner to the free throw line for two free throws to essentially clinch the game for the Buckeyes.

Ohio State will next play the winner of Virginia Tech and Richmond. That game will likely take place on Saturday, with tip time yet to be announced.

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