Dale Bonner, Buckeyes Hope to Turn New Page Off of Buzzer-Beater Against Michigan State

By Andy Anders on February 26, 2024 at 8:35 am
Dale Bonner celebrating
Nick King/Lansing State Journal/USA TODAY Network

When Ohio State lost at Minnesota on Thursday, it felt like the same old story, with defense and rebounding being the Buckeyes’ Achilles heel.

Ohio State penned a new chapter against Michigan State on Sunday, flipping the script with a 12-point second-half comeback to win 60-57 and snapping a program-worst 17-game losing streak.

Among those most excited to turn a new page must have been Dale Bonner, the man who hit the Buckeyes’ game-winner. Not that he dove too deep into that when asked about his emotions following the shot.

“It felt good – we won,” Bonner said after the game.

For a man who has had plenty of struggles this season since transferring in from Baylor, to see both he and the Buckeyes pick up some steam this week with victories over the Spartans and then-No. 2 Purdue has to be a breath of fresh air for the program.

“The thing I’m most happy about is the character of our guys and the character of this team that has been revealed in these last three games,” interim head coach Jake Diebler said. “I’ll include the Minnesota game in that because of how we finished. So our guys deserve the credit. They’ve taken little tweaks that we’ve been able to do and they’ve embraced it at a high level and they’ve stayed together at a high level.”

After Spartan guard Tyson Walker hit a free throw to tie the contest between OSU and MSU with six seconds remaining, the Spartans engaged in a full-court press to try and stifle any game-winning opportunities from the Buckeyes.

Ohio State’s plan was thrown into a blender. Devin Royal looked for his intended target on the inbounds pass, Bruce Thornton, but Michigan State guard Tre Hollman blocked his passing lane. Thornton cut an extra time to get space, finally got the pass from Royal, then split two defenders with his dribble before shuttling one last pass ahead to Bonner.

“That was me drawing up a play, Coach (Tom) Izzo taking it away and players making plays,” Diebler said. “Dale’s shot, obviously, was incredible. But when you think of the poise Devin Royal showed taking the ball out of bounds with no timeouts when our first option was taken away. Bruce double-cutting, finding a way to get open, having the awareness to get the ball down the floor. Then Dale having the awareness to get a shot up. Listen, that was players making plays, and it started, honestly, with Devin Royal.”

Bonner took one dribble toward the left corner and found himself blanketed by Walker. He gathered to his right and fell back for a well-contested three.

It splashed home. Ohio State led 60-57 with 0.2 seconds remaining, all but sealing an end to the Buckeyes’ program-worst 17-game road losing streak.

“I was just trying to get a shot up, honestly,” Bonner said. “We practiced these types of situations and I just happened to be in that situation and I was open, I just shot it and it went in.”

Bonner has been through his share of adversity this season, shooting just 27.7% from three and 31.5% from the field. He’s scored four points or less in 14 of Ohio State’s 28 games.

Ohio State’s victory against Michigan State didn’t come without adversity, either. The Buckeyes held a lead for five seconds in total against the Spartans, taking their first advantage at 57-56 with 11 seconds to play after Roddy Gayle Jr. hit two free throws.

Ohio State trailed by 10 at halftime and saw Michigan State’s lead get as large as 12 midway through the second half.

“We just kept a fighting mentality,” Bonner said. “We just stuck together and it worked out.”

Diebler felt a road win was due for the Buckeyes, saying that his team fought to the bitter end during their 88-79 loss to the Gophers. 

“We earned the right to play well because of how we finished last game,” Diebler said. “I believe that our guys finished the Minnesota game in a manner that gave us a chance to transition to this building against a Hall of Fame, all-time coach, a veteran team who is certainly capable of doing special things this postseason. So our guys stayed together, I think that’s the biggest thing. And they kept fighting.”

Ohio State has been trying to adopt a more urgent, aggressive mentality since Diebler took over for Chris Holtmann on Feb. 14. That includes keeping confidence high for players like Bonner, whose contributions will be needed if the Buckeyes intend to keep making noise late in the season.

“Certainly our start in the first half offensively wasn’t great,” Diebler said. “But I thought guys played to their strengths at a high level. We played together offensively and our motto this past week and a half has been, ‘Stay aggressive. Keep swinging. You’re open, shoot it. Don’t overthink it, don’t overcomplicate it. Play and be aggressive.’ And our guys have done that.”

Bonner and the Buckeyes will look to build off their momentum from the Breslin Center when they battle Nebraska at home on Thursday. Tip-off is set for 6:30 p.m. and the game will be televised by FS1.

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