Buckeyes Surge In Second Half, Wipe Out UCLA

By Jeff Rapp, December 23rd, 2018

In Ohio State’s lone loss heading into a Christmas-weekend matchup with UCLA, the Buckeyes failed to answer all of the long wingspans of Syracuse’s confounding zone defense.

For much of the first half of OSU’s contest with the Bruins in Chicago’s United Center on Saturday, it was more of the same – turnovers, poor decisions and a failure to make open looks against a 2-3 zone.

Fortunately for the Buckeyes, UCLA was equally inept until OSU figured out some answers and pulled away for an 80-66 victory in the CBS Sports Classic.

The matinee game, which served as a lead-up to a Kentucky-North Carolina clash at UC, featured a massive second-half effort by OSU point guard C.J. Jackson, who led all scorers with 22 points. It also improved the Buckeyes to 11-1 overall on the season.

No. 15 Ohio State hosts High Point next Saturday, Dec. 29 (noon Eastern, Big Ten Network) and will look to improve to 12-1 before delving back into the remaining 18 games on the regular-season Big Ten schedule.

Whether the win over UCLA (7-5) will carry much weight at the end of the year or not remains to be seen, but it certainly uplifted the Buckeyes to take down a blue-blood program on national television.

“Last year, we did not do a great job in nonconference games that are going to be evaluated at the end of the year by the NCAA Tournament selection committee,” head coach Chris Holtmann said. “That was something we were trying to be a little more aware of, but you know, I doubt we’re going 15-3 in the Big Ten this year.

“So to have a nonconference where we could pick up some wins that are important was good, but more than anything, you know, we have to keep growing and getting better.”

OSU led 33-30 at halftime despite committing seven turnovers and hitting just 13 of 36 shots (36.1 percent). That was due mainly to UCLA giving the ball away a dozen times.

In the second half, the Buckeyes improved to 15 of 31 from the field (48.4 percent) and hit five three-balls, many of them of the timely variety and coming as proof that UCLA’s zone was not impenetrable.

“I am really proud of the effort of our guys, particularly the second half,” Holtmann said. “I thought UCLA’s length bothered us. I know, I give them credit, I think they played a hard game the other night on the road (at Cincinnati), and we thought that we would see zone but I’m not sure we thought we would see that much.

“But give our guys credit, they responded well.”

Jackson led the second-half charge, scoring 20 of his 22 points after intermission. He added seven rebounds and six assists.

His final statistics were doubly impressive considering he was benched just five minutes into the game after a pair of turnovers.

“The biggest thing was my teammates, they were looking out for me,” said the senior lead guard. “I started hitting a couple of shots, got an easy floater in the beginning.

“When I was struggling in the first half, all the coaches and players stayed on me and said keep shooting, and that’s how they are in practice when you’re struggling. They tell you to keep going because they have seen the success out of each player. It’s always easy to play for guys like that.”

Holtmann started Keyshawn Woods in the backcourt with Jackson and Luther Muhammad while the Wesson brothers – Kaleb and Andre – handled the frontline chores.

Kaleb Wesson was a load inside for UCLA throughout and finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds. The 6-9 Wesson won the battle against UCLA’s 7-1 freshman center Moses Brown, who was held to nine points and two rebounds.

“It made me work on my lower body more, trying to get in their legs and weed out space for myself for rebounding and finding angles for my teammates to find me,” Wesson said of going against Brown.

Wesson had help in the lane from power forward Kyle Young, who added 11 points and six rebounds. Two of his hoops came on slams from alley-oop looks, one of them coming from Woods from behind the midcourt line.

Meanwhile, Andre Wesson had nine points and five blocked shots on defense. Muhammad also had nine points and Duane Washington Jr. scored eight for the Buckeyes.

Woods was solid and forceful as well. He recorded six points, four rebounds and 10 assists with no turnovers in just over 35 minutes of work.

Kris Wilkes had 18 points and seven rebounds to lead UCLA, which lost its third game in a row. Jaylen Hands added 13 points and Cody Riley scored 10 for the Bruins.

UCLA finished just 4 of 18 from behind the arc, was outrebounded 41-34 and had more turnovers (15) than assists (14) in a performance that figures to further warm the seat of head coach Steve Alford.

Not surprisingly, the former Indiana All-American preferred to credit the Buckeyes.

“I thought obviously that was a very good team that we played today,” Alford said. “They do a lot of good things, both offensively and defensively, and I thought that offensively, I liked our shots that we got. We didn’t make a lot, 4 for 18 from 3. We are normally a better shooting team than that, so we didn’t make some shots there. Getting rid of them around the rim for a while, it happened late, and I really like what we did defensively in the zone in the first half.

“In the second half, we just gave up way too many offensive rebounds. I think how we went about things, it was a much better effort than what it was Wednesday night when it snowballed. I thought we made some strides tonight, but against a very good team like this, you can’t give them second opportunities; we gave them 15.”

Ohio State actually led just 43-39 after Riley connected on a layup and a three-pointer with 14:30 left. However, OSU responded with an 8-3 surge to gain a tighter grip at 51-42. Key hoops in that sequence were a Young dunk off a lob to the weakside from Washington along with a three from Washington.

Moments later, after UCLA cut the deficit to four again, Jackson calmly flipped in a one-hander in the lane for a 57-50 lead with 8:40 left.

The Woods-Young alley-oop upped the lead to 63-53 and OSU added five more points off a three by Jackson and a pair of free throws by Andre Wesson.

Soon after, Jackson was fouled on a three-point attempt and made all three free throws for a 71-55 lead with 4:19 left.

“I was really proud of him because I thought he was struggling a little bit early and I thought he had a stretch there that kind of broke the game open in the second half when we moved him off the ball,” Holtmann said of Jackson, who led the Buckeyes in scoring for the third time this season.

Holtmann won his first-ever matchup with UCLA. Alford fell 8-9 all-time as a head coach against Ohio State, including a 7-8 record while at Iowa.