Buckeyes Are Road Warriors Again
Suddenly, Ohio State’s daunting preconference men’s basketball schedule is looking, well, manageable.
Chris Holtmann’s squad, picked to finish well out of the Big Ten race, raised eyebrows with a methodical and thorough season-opening win at Cincinnati on Nov. 7, a defensive-oriented 64-56 triumph that ruined the christening of UC’s new home arena.
After a follow-up victory in the home opener vs. Purdue Fort Wayne, the Buckeyes faced another tough road test Thursday night at Creighton – and again left the home folks stunned.
OSU overcame an early shooting drought, fought back to grab a 12-point lead at halftime, lost grip of their advantage then closed out the game with a dominant 13-0 run. It all added up to a 69-60 win and 3-0 start for the surprising Buckeyes.
The win at the CHI Health Center in Omaha also snapped Creighton’s 24-game home nonconference winning streak, dating to 2015, and clinched the Big Ten Conference’s victory over the Big East in the Gavitt Tipoff Games.
Star guard Ty-Shon Alexander led Creighton (2-1) with 16 points and proved to be a tough cover with his quickness. But the Buckeyes still managed to thwart several of Creighton’s set plays and make key stops and buckets in front of a partisan crowd.
“It was a great environment,” Holtmann said. “Players win games and our guys stepped up and made plays to win the game. They really answered the bell when it didn’t look good for us.”
Shining the brightest was senior transfer Keyshawn Woods. The off-guard came off the bench and came up big with a game-high 19 points and four assists.
Woods made several important plays including passes to C.J. Jackson and Kyle Young for clutch baskets as OSU pulled away.
“He was fantastic,” Holtmann said of Woods. “The pass to C.J. on an action we had set up. He makes the right pass a lot. You know he won’t be able to get by a ton of guys who are quicker than he is. But he makes the right play.”
Jackson endured a rough night. In fact, he missed his first seven shots including an airball in the second half and committed five turnovers. However, he produced a critical three and added a flip shot in the lane and free throw in the final 2:08.
Jackson was coming off a 25-point outburst against PFW, but his teammates picked him up throughout the game. Freshman guard Duane Washington Jr. had 12 points. Kaleb Wesson added nine and his older brother, Andre Wesson, contributed eight points.
Davion Mintz hit a couple key threes and supported Alexander with a dozen points.
Still, the Buckeyes won the battle on the arc, connecting on 10 of 21 (47.6 percent) while Creighton was 9 of 25 (36.0 percent) from deep.
OSU also looked prepared for screen-and-roll plays that are essential to Creighton’s offense.
“Our guys understand that if we’re going to have a chance, (defense) has to be what we’re all about,” Holtmann said. “Defense travels. If your mind-set is you’re going to make it difficult for people to score in the halfcourt, that will help you in a big way.”
After falling in an early 10-2 hole, the Buckeyes dug in on defense and began to find the touch on the other end. OSU led 37-25 at halftime with its bench matching the Bluejays in production.
Woods led the way with 15 points in the stanza. He was 5 of 7 from the floor and 3 of 4 on threes. Kaleb Wesson added eight points and Washington scored seven before halftime.
The Buckeyes closed the half with a 14-4 run – a precursor as to how the game would end.
Meanwhile, Alexander was stuck on the bench for much of the first half with a pair of personal fouls.
Creighton, though, got cooking. The Bluejays trapped Jackson, gobbled up turnovers and chipped away at the deficit.
Alexander hit a three and another basket as Creighton trimmed the lead to 39-32. A spurt by the Buckeyes fueled by freshman guard Luther Muhammad brought the OSU lead back up to 12 at 46-34, but Creighton rallied with a 14-2 run to tie the game at 48 with 9:48 left.
With the crowd pulsing, OSU got a key putback basket by yet another frosh, power forward Jaedon LeDee. Creighton answered with a three by Marcus Zegarowski to make it 53-all with 6:46 left.
Creighton led 57-54 when Young came through with a key hoop with 3:54 left.
The teams traded threes as Mitch Ballock hit one for the home team and Washington answered to cut the lead to 60-59 with 2:40 left.
After a missed free throw by the Bluejays, Woods found Jackson, who hesitated and then fired a three with 2:08 to play. It splashed the net and turned OSU fortunes.
Moments later, Alexander missed a shot and Woods pushed ahead to find Young for a dunk to make it 64-60 lead with 1:21 left.
After a Creighton turnover, Jackson scored inside for a 66-60 lead with 46 seconds left and the Buckeyes were in business.
The Buckeyes hung on from there to improve to 6-3 all-time vs. Creighton and 2-0 in the Gavitt Games.
Ohio State will play five home games in 15 days beginning with a date with South Carolina State (1-2) on Sunday (2 p.m., BTN Plus).