Ohio State Comes Up Clutch in Final Minute, Survives Cornell in First Round of NIT, 88-83

By Andy Anders on March 19, 2024 at 9:09 pm
Jamison Battle

Trailing 81-79 in a game they were favored to win in the first round of the NIT, Ohio State needed clutch plays in the final moments.

Clutch plays are what it found.

First it was Jamison Battle, nailing a three-pointer from the left corner to put the Buckeyes ahead 82-81 with 43 seconds left.

Then it was Roddy Gayle Jr., poking a ball free and diving on it for a jump ball and steal to send it back Ohio State's way.

Next came Evan Mahaffey, doing his best quarterback impression and lasering a pass the full length of the court to find Devin Royal near the rim.

Last came Royal, who pump-faked and finished the play with a layup, then Dale Bonner, who knocked down two free throws to put Ohio State up two scores with 14 seconds to play.

#7 CORNELL 38 45 83
#2 OHIO STATE 44 44 88

All that proved enough for second-seeded Ohio State (21-13) to battle past seventh-seeded Cornell (22-8), 88-83, and advance to the second round of the NIT.

Four different Buckeyes hit double-figures, with Gayle and Battle leading the way with 17 points. Felix Okpara picked up a career-high 16 points with seven rebounds and three blocks while Royal added 13 points.

Guard Isaiah Gray picked up a game-high 19 points for Cornell in a losing effort. Forward Guy Ragland Jr. added 17 with a game-high nine rebounds.

Ohio State held a massive 51-32 rebounding advantage over the Big Red, collecting 15 second-chance points. 

First half

Cornell came out in a full-court press, and while Ohio State got a few buckets in transition early, it didn't handle the sped-up pace well overall.

The Buckeyes started 3-of-18 from the field – all in under five minutes – as two triples from Cooper Noard built an early 12-6 lead for Cornell off an 8-0 run.

The Big Red extended that edge to 19-9, generating plenty of layups near the rim off backdoor cuts while tossing up plenty of threes as well.

Gayle and Okpara had the response for Ohio State, however, combining for nine points to help slice the deficit to four at the under-eight media timeout.

Bruce Thornton came out and hit two step-back threes to cap a 10-0 Buckeye run that made it a 26-24 ballgame, but Cornell answered with three triples of its own for a 9-0 run and a 33-26 lead.

The perimeter peppering continued with back-to-back distance makes from Royal and Thornton.

Keller Boothby answered again with a three, but Ohio State rattled off an 8-0 run capped by two triples rapid-fire from Battle to move ahead 40-36 and carry a 44-38 lead into halftime.

Second half

Guy Ragland Jr. proved to be a problem as the second half began.

After Dale Bonner collected his first five points of the game to make it a seven-point Ohio State lead, Ragland hit a layup to slow the Buckeyes' roll.

Ragland scored nine of 13 points for Cornell during a burst of offense that put the Big Red back into the driver's seat, 57-56. Gayle picked up his fourth foul soon after.

88 POINTS 83
32-75 (42.7%) FGM-FGA (PCT.) 33-67 (49.3%)
11-26 (42.3%) 3PM-3PA (PCT.) 12-33 (36.4%)
13-22 (59.1%) FTM-FTA (PCT.) 5-6 (83.3%)

That didn't stop him from reentering the game and scoring five consecutive points for the Buckeyes after they trailed 64-62. A contested three-pointer from Gayle gave Ohio State a 67-66 lead, then a transition layup through a foul for Okpara and an alley-oop flush from the center gave Ohio State its first two-score edge in almost 10 minutes.

Jake Fiegen hit a triple to stop the bleeding for Cornell and the score stood at 71-69 Ohio State with 5:45 remaining.

Cornell came charging back to take a 76-75 lead off a Gray layup, only for a technical foul from Gray to help tie the game at 76. Battle nailed a floater two possessions later and Ohio State led 79-76 with 2:26 to play.

Nazir Williams answered with a triple and the game was tied with less than two minutes remaining. Then Gray nailed a layup through an Evan Mahaffey contest following a missed layup from Gayle, and Cornell pulled ahead 81-79.

But the Buckeyes scored nine of the game’s next 11 points from there to avoid a first-round upset and advance to the second round of the NIT, where they’ll host No. 3 seed Virginia Tech (19-14) on Saturday. That game will tip off at 7 p.m. on ESPN+.

Game notes

  • Ohio State had more field goal attempts in the first half (43) than it had all game against Northwestern on Jan. 27 (41).
  • Monday marked Okpara's 14th game of the season with at least three blocked shots and his 23rd game with at least two.
  • Thornton left the game with 10:18 to play with what Jake Diebler confirmed to be an ankle sprain. His status for the second round of the NIT is unclear.
  • Scotty Middleton was unavailable for Ohio State due to a family emergency. He is expected back for the Buckeyes’ second-round NIT game.
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