Roddy Gayle Jr. Rescues Ohio State With Clutch Performance in Second-Round Big Ten Tournament Win

By Griffin Strom on March 9, 2023 at 6:50 pm
Roddy Gayle

Iowa was one move ahead.

The lead changed 18 times in Thursday’s second-round Big Ten Tournament matchup, but Ohio State was chasing the Hawkeyes as the contest reached its final eight minutes. Somebody had to step up to get the Buckeyes over the hump.

Nobody expected it to be Roddy Gayle Jr. 

The freshman guard started eight of the past nine games for Ohio State, but before Thursday, he didn’t score more than six points in any of them. In fact, with a little over six minutes remaining against Iowa, Gayle had yet to score a point all afternoon. At that point, he’d only attempted one shot.

For all those reasons, you should doubt anyone claiming they anticipated what followed.

Gayle scored on a dribble drive from the top of the key to the rim to tie the game up, 57–57, with a layup at the 6:02 mark. While rare to see Gayle create his own shot in that capacity this season, that wasn’t the surprising part. What made the day special for Gayle was that he scored seven more points after that, including a huge 3-pointer with 3:23 to play and a pair of clutch free throws with 33.4 seconds left on the clock.

With nine points in a little over six minutes of game time, Gayle lifted the Buckeyes to a 73-69 win over Iowa. Plenty of other Buckeyes contributed heavily to the upset victory, but Gayle was the X-factor, and his late-game explosion was the story of the day.

“I was really proud of Roddy. He's put in a lot of work, and he's had Bruce (Thornton) and other guys who have kind of had really big seasons,” Holtmann said. “Obviously, Brice (Sensabaugh) is a freshman, and sometimes you can compare yourself to them, and it can bother you. I think he's just stayed with working. We've had a lot of conversations, and he's just stayed with it, stayed working. I was really happy for Roddy to see this moment because we have a really high-level belief in what he's going to be. We just really do.”

Gayle seemed remarkably poised in the moment for a player who’d never made plays like that at this level of basketball. 

The game was tied at 61-all with three minutes and change remaining when Ohio State ran an action that freed Gayle up for a long-range shot. Gayle screened Thornton’s man at the top of the key and then rolled to the block. Felix Okpara then set a pick for Thornton on the wing and attracted the attention of Gayle’s defender down low. 

Gayle popped out to the 3-point line, got the pass from Thornton and didn’t hesitate before letting a shot fly. He sank it to give the Buckeyes a three-point lead in what felt like a major turning point on Thursday.

“In that moment, I just felt comfortable. Especially with Coach (Holtmann), I believe he has the utmost confidence in me and respect,” Gayle said. “Bruce, we practice these things. These are just another moment for us. We practice this stuff, late-moment games, time and score. It just felt comfortable, just felt like another shot, another game, honestly. … I really have no explanation for it. You just got to do what you got to do, get the job done. I know that Coach wants me to have my presence felt on the offensive and defensive side, so just stay aggressive and really defend my man and to do as much as the team needs me to do to win.”

Gayle may have needed even more moxie when he stepped to the free-throw line with less than a minute left on the clock. Ohio State was clinging to just a two-point lead at the time, as Iowa seemed to have an answer every time the Buckeyes attempted to earn some breathing.

If Gayle missed them both, Ohio State may not have won. Iowa hit two free throws on the next possession, which would’ve been the game-tying Hawkeye points, and who knows where momentum might have led them. Instead, Gayle converted both attempts to put the Buckeyes back up four.

For Gayle’s teammates, it was never in doubt.

“Roddy is more than capable. Fortunately, our team, we have a lot of talented guys, a lot of guys that can make plays, and Roddy was the one that stepped up for this game on the biggest stage to do that,” Justice Sueing said. “All of us have confidence in every guy that steps on the courts. So it's just built on his hard work and belief and trust throughout this entire year.”

"We just wanted another playmaker. We see that's who Roddy's going to be, and he was able to really execute there late.”– Chris Holtmann on Roddy Gayle

Sean McNeil said a breakout performance from Gayle was inevitable and that his performances in practice proved he was capable of what he showed off on Thursday. 

“Roddy's a gamer. Been showing it in practice. We all have belief in him,” McNeil said. “It's just a matter of time before a night like this was bound to happen. Credit to Roddy. He's a big part of why we won tonight.”

Given Sensabaugh’s stellar season, not to mention Thornton’s late-season surge, Gayle’s been overlooked among the Buckeye freshmen for most of the year. But with the season on the line in a game Ohio State wasn’t even expected to win, Gayle made the biggest plays.

In fact, Holtmann even ran plays for Gayle, specifically down the stretch. And after the way he executed, it’s safe to say it won’t be the last time.

“I think all those guys have played so many minutes as freshmen. Our four freshmen have played so many minutes. By this time, there's a level of maturity,” Holtmann said. “Now, maybe he's played the least amount – maybe not – but he's certainly got a much better understanding. There was an action that we had not run a whole lot and a couple of the actions there late for him. And honestly, I felt like Bruce might have been fatiguing a little bit. So we just wanted another playmaker. We see that's who Roddy's going to be, and he was able to really execute there late.”

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