Ohio State Leads Entire Second Half, Defeats Virginia Tech 81-73 to Advance to NIT Quarterfinals

By Andy Anders on March 23, 2024 at 9:21 pm

Ohio State is on to the quarterfinals of college basketball's second-most prestigious tournament.

Despite plenty of tense moments down the stretch of a foul-laden second half, the second-seeded Buckeyes (22-13) defeated third-seeded Virginia Tech (19-15) 81-73 in the second round of the NIT on Saturday, extending their season another game.

#3 VIRGINIA TECH 26 47 73
#2 OHIO STATE 36 45 81

Jamison Battle led Ohio State with 21 points, 17 coming at the free-throw line. He added a team-high 10 rebounds.

Felix Okpara followed with 13 points, adding six boards and two blocks. Bruce Thornton and Roddy Gayle Jr. also hit double-figures, picking up 12 and 11 points. Thornton, who returned from an ankle sprain he suffered against Cornell on Tuesday, added a team-high seven assists.

Dale Bonner gave the Buckeyes five total double-figure scorers with 12 points of his own.

Guards Hunter Cattoor and Sean Pedulla paced Virginia Tech with 18 points each in a losing effort.

First half

Much like in its first-round NIT game against Cornell, Ohio State's offense came out at a snail's pace against Virginia Tech.

The Hokies opened the contest on a 7-0 run as it took 3:49 before the Buckeyes scored their first points off a three-pointer from Roddy Gayle Jr. A follow-up triple on the next possession cut the lead to 7-6.

Still, a 3-of-14 start from the field for Ohio State allowed the Hokies to level out a 12-6 lead. But then it was Virginia Tech who went nearly four minutes without scoring, allowing the Buckeyes to build a 10-0 run capped by a near-half-court alley-oop from Thornton to Gayle.

Tied at 19, it was the Buckeyes' freshmen that catalyzed their next fun. Freshman guard Taison Chatman entered the game and nailed a three-pointer before freshman forward Devin Royal rose to hit a well-contested mid-range jumper. Battle capped the 7-0 spurt to make it 26-19 Ohio State.

That run got extended to 15-2 in short order, with a thunderous two-handed slam from Royal and a Gayle layup pushing the advantage to 34-21. Virginia Tech cut into the deficit a touch with help from a Cattoor triple, but Ohio State entered halftime up 36-26.

Second half

81 POINTS 73
24-61 (39.3%) FGM-FGA (PCT.) 26-64 (40.6%)
4-17 (23.5%) 3PM-3PA (PCT.) 5-21 (23.8%)
29-32 (90.6%) FTM-FTA (PCT.) 16-20 (80%)

Okpara provided a spark to start the second half, swatting two shots and flushing down an alley-oop in the opening minutes.

Thornton converted a three-point play the old-fashioned way to put Ohio State up 45-32. When the Buckeyes went more than three minutes without scoring and the Hokies made it 45-36, he converted another to push the edge back to 12.

Exacerbating issues for Virginia Tech was that both its starting bigs, Robbie Beran and Lynn Kidd, had each collected their fourth fouls before nine minutes had passed in the second half. Ohio State hit the double bonus with 10:52 remaining.

Pedulla scored six straight for the Hokies and they started to chip away at the lead, however. Two Cattoor free throws made it 54-48, Bonner hit a triple and later two free throws for five straight Ohio State points, but Pedulla finished another three-point play and the lead was six again at 59-53.

Much of the second half was being spent at the free-throw line for both sides. Thirty-two total fouls were called with the Buckeyes going 26-of-28 at the stripe in the second period while Virginia Tech was 14-of-17.

An Okpara layup put Ohio State ahead 65-58, but again the Hokies chipped away. With four points at the line, Kidd converted a layup through the foul to make the score 67-64. Two free throws from Battle made it 69-64 with 3:35 remaining.

But the Buckeyes' defense started stringing stops together again, and an Okpara dunk had Value City Arena rocking. Thornton drew a foul but left the game with an injury as less than two minutes remained, Okpara hit a free throw in his place and the lead grew to 72-64.

Virginia Tech thrice cut the lead back to six points after that but never returned to within five.

Ohio State advances to play the winner of first-seeded Wake Forest and fourth-seeded Georgia at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. If the Demon Deacons win, the Buckeyes will be on the road. If it's the Bulldogs, OSU will get one last game in Value City Arena this year.

Game notes

  • Virginia Tech's 26 first-half points were the fewest allowed by Ohio State since Jan. 20, when it held Penn State to 19 in the opening period.
  • Okpara came up with a blocked shot for the 42nd game in a row, extending his school record. Ken Johnson previously held the high-water mark of 40.
  • Thornton, who missed the final 10 minutes of Ohio State's first-round NIT Game with an ankle sprain, was grabbing at the middle of his right leg after exiting with his injury. Jake Diebler said after the game that he was hit in the thigh and will work with trainers to return for the Buckeyes' next game.
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