Led By Jamison Battle, Ohio State's Free-Throw Shooting Navigates Choppy Second Half Against Virginia Tech

By Andy Anders on March 24, 2024 at 11:05 am
Jamison Battle
Courtesy of Ohio State Athletics

Especially come tournament time, it’s a fool’s errand to call any win an ugly win in college basketball.

The second half between Ohio State and Virginia Tech was a bit of an eyesore, though.

A total of 32 fouls were called against the Buckeyes and Hokies during the final 20 minutes. Thirteen whistles came against Ohio State and 19 against Virginia Tech, who earned that discrepancy by fouling to extend the contest in its waning moments.

“We lean on our maturity and our collective toughness during those stretches,” Jake Diebler said afterward. “This group has really grown together, they’ve shown a great deal of toughness now, certainly throughout games, but specifically end of games.”

Still, a 29-of-32 mark at the free-throw line – a success rate of 90.6% that is somehow only third on the season for the Buckeyes – helped the Scarlet and Gray navigate a choppy second half and defeat the Hokies 81-73 to advance the NIT quarterfinals.

“It was choppy,” Diebler said. “We missed some shots we usually make, we struggled on a couple of finishes around the rim. But we’ve talked about, ‘Stay aggressive, move on quickly, don’t let one play affect another’ and our guys have really embraced that.”

Ohio State shot just 31% from the field and 12.5% from three in the second half against the Hokies, but still managed to carry a 10-point halftime lead through to the finish line, winning by eight.

Part of that came through defensive effort forcing eight second-half turnovers, but it was also about maintaining focus as fouls didn’t go the Buckeyes’ way. That included a 63-second sequence where four whistles went against Ohio State.

“It’s just staying next-play mentality,” senior forward Jamison Battle said. “It’s what you have to look at if you have a foul, there’s a bad call, whatever happens, you huddle in and it’s always talking about, ‘Next play.’ We’re aiming at what’s next because in the end, you can’t control what just happened. I come here and say it all the time, so it’s just focusing on the next play and just being ready for whatever’s next.”

Battle accounted for more than half of the Buckeyes’ free throws, going 17-of-18 at the charity stripe as part of a game-high 21 points.

“His ability to step up, his ability to get fouled, I think he’s grown in that significantly,” Diebler said. “Specifically the end of the season. He really struggled to get to the free-throw line first half of the season, he’s really grown in that area. But you feel like the ball is going in every time he’s there and it really helps. We designed some press break to get the ball into his hands so he could get to the free-throw line, he played with great force the last five, six minutes of the game when we struggled to maybe make some shots.”

Battle had to stay locked in despite an 0-for-5 night behind the arc from the Big Ten’s most efficient three-point shooter. He also pulled in a team-high 10 rebounds.

As a squad, the Buckeyes went 26-of-28 on free throws in the second half and 7-of-8 in the last minute of the game.

“It’s just repetition,” Battle said of his free-throw shooting. “Those are things you just work on and there’s a confidence I have in myself because of all the reps I’ve put in. I think it’s just, you’ve gotta stay focused. You’ve gotta stay locked in. Because in the end, you’ve gotta make free throws, and I think that ultimately is what helped us last game.”

With such choppiness out of the way, Ohio State now hopes to find smoother waters against its quarterfinal opponent. The third-seeded Buckeyes will either be on the road against first-seeded Wake Forest or at home against fourth-seeded Georgia, depending on which team wins the tilt between them at 4 p.m. Sunday. 

“Come Tuesday night there are not going to be very many teams playing college basketball. And we’ll be one of them,” Diebler said. “Our guys have earned that. We wanted to be in the NCAA Tournament, absolutely. There was some disappointment when we weren’t. But our guys enjoy playing together and they’ve earned the right to be one of the select few teams that are still playing here in a few days.”

Ohio State will tip off against either the Demon Deacons or Bulldogs at 7 p.m. Tuesday on ESPN.

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