COLUMBUS, Ohio — With Big Ten play little more than a week away, the Ohio State men’s basketball team used its final nonconference tune-up to sharpen its skills in close contests, edging UNC Asheville 79-77 Thursday night.
With the victory, the Buckeyes move to 10-3 on the season. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, fall to 8-5.
How it happened
A closely contested first half ended with Ohio State taking a three-point lead into the locker room. UNC Asheville cut the Buckeyes’ advantage to a single point on a MaCio Teague jumper to start the second half, but the Buckeyes responded with a 10-0 run to take a 46-35 lead on a Kam Williams’ 3-pointer at the 16-minute, 52-second mark.
At the 6:01 mark, two Teague free throws following a technical foul on OSU forward Marc Loving brought the Bulldogs within three points of the Buckeyes, then a Kevin Vannatta jumper cut the OSU advantage to 62-61. Vannatta — a product of nearby Upper Arlington, Ohio — would then tie the game at 64 with a 3-pointer at the 4:50 mark.
After a JaQuan Lyle free throw temporarily broke the tie, OSU center Trevor Thompson fouled out following a technical foul of his own. Three subsequent made free throws gave UNC Asheville a 67-65 lead with 4:25 remaining before a pair of Jae’Sean Tate freebies for the Buckeyes tied the game.
Teague took the next lead for the Bulldogs with a floater at the 2:51 mark, but Lyle would tie the game back up with a pair of free throws on the ensuing possession. The junior guard regained a 71-69 lead for the Buckeyes with two minutes left in the game before padding his team’s advantage with a floater 30 seconds later.
When all was said and done, Lyle had scored 8 of Ohio State’s final 12 points in the last 2:35 of play as Williams closed out the game with a pair of free throws with 4.7 seconds remaining on the clock.
What it means for Ohio State
With the exception of an early-December loss to lowly Florida Atlantic, the Buckeyes enter Big Ten play having done what they needed to do. Ohio State’s two other losses on the season came to a pair of top-10 teams in Virginia and UCLA, both of which occurred away from the friendly confines of Columbus.
A 64-60 win against Connecticut on Dec. 10 could lend credibility to the Buckeyes’ NCAA Tournament résumé down the line, but Ohio State will likely need to add at least a couple of signature victories in conference play.
Entering Thursday, noted advanced analytics site KenPom.com ranked the Buckeyes as its No. 35 team. With four Big Ten teams ranked in the top 30, Ohio State will have plenty of opportunities to add to its case in the coming weeks.
Getting his first start of the season with freshman Micah Potter out with an ankle injury, Thompson recorded his fourth double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out. Thompson has now posted double-doubles in four of his last six outings.
Joining Thompson in double-digit scoring were Lyle (17), Tate (17) and Loving (11).
In 25 minutes of action, junior forward Keita Bates-Diop scored just 7 points on 3-of-9 shooting with a team-worst minus-8. Guard C.J. Jackson posted a minus-7.
Ohio State committed 13 turnovers and made just 3 of its 10 3-point shots. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes allowed the Bulldogs to connect on 11 of their 24 shots from beyond the arc.
Who was there
As a student manager, Greg Oden has been at each Buckeyes home game this season. Nonetheless, it’s worth pointing out the awesome scarlet and gray Christmas cardigan he wore on the Ohio State bench.
The Buckeyes will return to action on New Year’s Day when they hit the road for their Big Ten opener at Illinois. The Fighting Illini are 10-3 on the season and actually begin Big Ten play before the Ohio State game, playing at Maryland on Dec. 27. Illinois ranks 65th in the KenPom rankings.
Tip-off time for the Jan. 1 game has yet to be announced. It will air on the Big Ten Network.