All eyes might be on the Ohio State football team's showdown with Michigan Saturday, but the men's basketball team commanded some attention with its performance Friday.
The Buckeyes, entering as an eight-point underdog against No. 17 Alabama in the second round of the Emerald Coast Classic, knocked off the Crimson Tide by a 92-81 final in Niceville, Fla.
Ohio State looked like an offensive juggernaut against the Crimson Tide, shooting a blistering 54% from the field and 55.6% from 3. The Buckeyes were 93.3% from the foul line for good measure, making their first 14 attempts from the charity stripe.
Alabama never tied or led the game during its final 23 minutes. The Crimson Tide entered Friday with the nation's No. 1 scoring offense both in points per game and points per 100 possessions, scoring at least 98 points in each of their first four games, surpassing triple digits three times.
Bruce Thornton led the way for Ohio State with a career-high 29 points and added four assists. Roddy Gayle Jr. followed with a career-high of his own at 23 points. Alabama got 20 points from Grant Nelson and 19 from Aaron Estrada in a losing effort.
Ohio State opened its tilt with the Tide in about the worst fashion possible, turning the ball over on each of its first three possessions to lead to three Alabama baskets that put the Buckeyes behind the eight-ball at 6-0.
The Buckeyes countered with an 11-2 run to surge ahead 11-8, however, getting two threes from Thornton and another from Gayle.
Another run came in response from Alabama. It picked up six points from guard Latrell Wrightsell Jr. to go ahead 19-13 with an 8-0 streak, but Ohio State freshman Scotty Middleton answered with a 3-pointer and a layup to cut that advantage to 19-18 with 9:58 to play until halftime.
Two midrange jumpers from Thornton brought the Buckeyes ahead 24-22, one of two lead changes and two ties that occurred in the final seven minutes of the first half.
After Alabama forward Grant Nelson tied the contest at 29, Gayle converted an and-one layup to put Ohio State up 32-29, then two free throws from Thornton and two layups from Zed Key ensured that the team maintained that lead going into the locker room.
Despite 10 turnovers, the Buckeyes led 38-33 at halftime. Thornton collected 14 points in the opening 20 minutes as his squad shot 5-of-12 (41.7%) from 3.
A sequence early on in the second half highlighted just how high-paced the battle between Ohio State and Alabama was in Raider Arena.
Guard Mark Sears nailed a triple to bring the Crimson Tide back within a bucket at 40-38, but Jamison Battle responded with his own distance make for Ohio State to make it a five-point advantage again.
The Crimson Tide ran down the floor and got a quick look for Estrada, who cashed in the shot to make the tally 43-40. No sooner had Ohio State inbounded the basketball than Gayle was sprinting down the court, arriving in the paint and hitting a floater over two Alabama defenders to make it 45-40 Buckeyes.
One issue cropping up for Ohio State was foul trouble. The Buckeyes committed four fouls in the first 4:30 of the second half, with Evan Mahaffey and Felix Okpara each picking up their third personal.
But still, the Buckeyes were hanging onto a solid lead. Key made a gorgeous pass from the post to Dale Bonner in the opposite corner to give the Buckeyes their first double-digit lead at 52-42, though Nelson quickly responded with a triple of his own to make it 52-45 with 14:27 to play.
Gayle nailed a baby hook and Key worked his way open for a dunk, then Bonner countered another Alabama 3 with a distance make and Ohio State once again solidified a double-digit edge at 59-48.
The Crimson Tide weren't going down easy, however. Sears hit a pair of free throws, forward Jarin Stevenson splashed a triple and a steal led to a transition layup for Estrada to make it a 61-56 ballgame.
But Thornton had the answers.
Nineteen seconds after hitting a catch-and-shoot 3 that put Ohio State back ahead by 10, Thornton brought the ball across the timeline in transition, dribbled quickly to the right wing, then planted and crossed over for a nasty step-back shot. It found net and the Buckeyes had their largest lead at 69-56 with 8:50 remaining.
Two more points from Thornton, this time at the free-throw line, capped a 10-0 Ohio State run.
Alabama did cut the lead back under 10 three minutes later, getting a 3-pointer from Sears.
A lightning-quick drive and finish from Gayle and a pair of free throws the following possession put Ohio State up 81-69 with 3:56 to play.
Rylan Griffen put up a quick five points down the stretch to spark a 7-0 run in desperation that made it 85-78 with less than 90 seconds left, but Gayle made a gorgeous and-one layup that flew well above the basket and then kissed high off the glass before falling in. The following free throw made Ohio State's lead 88-78 with 1:01 left.
After 10 first-half turnovers, the Buckeyes gave the ball away just four times in the final 20 minutes to close out their 92-81 win.
Ohio State will play Santa Clara, who defeated Oregon on Friday, in the championship game of the Emerald Coast Classic at 7 p.m. Saturday in Niceville, Fla. The game will be broadcast by CBS Sports Network.
- Freshman guard Taison Chatman, Ohio State's highest-rated recruit in the 2023 class, made his first career appearance. He played for 27 seconds before the under-four media timeout in the first half.
- Bonner and Key were responsible for 20 of the Buckeyes' 25 bench points.
- Bonner saw the floor for 26 minutes on Friday, his highest usage yet for Ohio State.
- Ohio State enjoyed a 32-24 rebounding advantage and 13-8 edge in second-change points.