Roddy Gayle Jr.’s double-overtime windmill dunk may have put an exclamation point on Ohio State’s win over Maryland with two seconds remaining, but it wasn’t, ultimately, the game-winner.
No, the player who hit that shot is the man who threw Gayle the game’s final meaningful pass as time dwindled. It’s the same player who hit the shot that sent the contest to double overtime in the first place and the same player who hit the shot that forced the first overtime before that.
The player who made all three of those shots was Bruce Thornton.
With Ohio State long past the stage of desperately needing a win, the Buckeyes put the ball in the hands of their brightest star when the game was on the line, and it paid dividends.
“I just feel like I’m one of the best guards in the Big Ten and also the country,” Thornton said after the 79-75 victory. “So I carry that swag about myself, that confidence that I can do it on any given night and today I showed it.”
Thornton collected 24 points and picked up seven rebounds with four assists, but it was the timing of those points that was especially crucial.
As Ohio State trailed by six with less than eight minutes remaining in regulation, a combo of buckets from Gayle and Thornton shaved the deficit back to one score.
“We met this week and talked through some things,” Holtmann said of Thornton. “We were just trying to look at some things we needed to do to potentially help him, but also we wanted him to have a more aggressive mindset because we trust him to make the right play or make the right read.”
Perhaps it was an aggressive mindset that allowed Thornton to step confidently into a three and knock it down with 1:03 remaining in regulation, tying the game at 61 in what proved the final score from either team before overtime.
Three-point shooting hasn’t been a strength for Thornton in Big Ten play. He’s shot just 25.6% from outside in his last 10 games dating back to Jan. 6 against Indiana, but when it could have spelled the difference between losing a sixth consecutive game for Ohio State and not, he converted.
However, most of Thornton’s offense against the Hoosiers didn't come from distance. It came from attacking the rim to find layups, floaters, or pull-up mid-range jumpers.
Thornton said that Ohio State opted for a ball-screen-heavy offense to try and create space for him against Maryland’s defense. He also wanted to attack downhill against Maryland forward Julian Reese, who was in foul trouble throughout Saturday's contest.
“They ran at (Thornton), tried to get the ball out of his hands a couple of times, but they were, for most of the game, in drop coverage,” Holtmann said. “We felt like we could attack that in the middle of the floor. He also just played with a degree of confidence that he’s earned the last couple of practices, and it was good to see him play that way. Hopefully, we can help him. I think giving him a little more space out there with the smaller lineup helped.”
Thornton got to the rack for a layup with 1:05 left in the first overtime that tied the game and ultimately sent it to a second extra period. Then, with 1:11 left in double overtime, another drive and finish from Thornton gave Ohio State its final lead at 77-75.
Asked what empowered him late, Thornton pointed to his desire to win.
“Just not losing,” Thornton said. “You get to a point where you’re tired of it. Just having that mentality and having my guys back me up the whole time, there’s no better feeling than when your teammates, your coaching staff have a belief in you, why not?”
“I just feel like I’m one of the best guards in the Big Ten and also the country. So I carry that swag about myself, that confidence that I can do it on any given night.”– Thornton on his performance against Maryland
Thornton’s going to need to take control of many more games to salvage Ohio State’s season, however.
Still at just 14-10 on the year with a combined 1-9 record in Quad 1 and 2 games, the Buckeyes can’t even be considered on the bubble for making the NCAA Tournament yet. A win at No. 11 Wisconsin on Tuesday could maybe change the tide, but Ohio State hasn’t won a road game in 407 days, losing 15 straight in hostile environments.
Thornton still believes that his team to right the ship.
“All the hard work that you put in when it’s not going your way, it showed today,” Thornton said. “I just told my teammates, just let it hang, y’all. Have that swagger about you that it doesn’t matter who says what about you. People are gonna say stuff about you if you’re winning or if you’re losing. So you’ve gotta have that mentality, have that swagger about you that, I’m gonna make the next play, I’m gonna make the next shot.”