EJ Liddell and Justin Ahrens were brilliant, the defense quelled a hot start by No.21 Seton Hall, but it took a few last-second exploits of Meechie Johnson’s freshman to get the State to pass. Ohio in front of Seton Hall during the Fort Myers Tip-Off tournament.
Credit Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann to go a bit in the Old Testament at the end (A child must lead them), because with the score equal to 76-76 and six seconds left in the first year of regulation, Meechie Johnson bravely took a 30-foot three-point pointer over the outstretched arm of Bryce Aiken, senior at Seton Hall … and made it right !
And with 2.3 seconds to go, the 2-2 Pirates, fresh off an upset win over Michigan last week, could only manage a weak three-point attempt to equalize by forward Jamir Harris. – an uprising, actually – and Ohio State (4-1) left Fort Myers in the first round on Monday with a fierce and impressive 79-76 victory.
“We had a game in mind, and there was the issue of taking a time out at that point, but we didn’t want to give them the chance to establish their defense,” said Holtmann, following the winner. of Johnson’s match. “He’s a tough kid (Johnson), and the players play games. He made a play.
It capped the Buckeyes’ most impressive victory over their first four, a game in which they shot 50% from a three-point range (11-22) and made 22 of 25 free throws to help contain Seton Hall in the last straight line. . After overcoming an 11-point deficit last week to beat Michigan, the Pirates this time came from a 12-point deficit with 15 minutes left, taking the Buckeyes’ lead with solid defense and heroic shots from their own guards. Bryce Aiken and Jared Rhoden.
“We knew they were a strong team and we knew they weren’t going to go away,” said Holtmann.
Both teams had a run early, hitting six of the game’s first eight shots … and Ohio State’s Justin Ahrens made an early statement hitting his first three shots from the ground – all three – to complete the first half time with 11 points.
Teammate EJ Liddell followed suit, hitting his first three shots and 8 of 17 on the night for a high of 28 points. Even more impressive, Liddell was a perfect 10 for 10 from the foul line.
But Rhoden tied Liddell blow for blow, with 18 points in the first half, and a team record of 29 for the game… and hits from all over the field.
Tied at 15-15 after nine minutes … the lights went out in the arena, an omen, perhaps, but meanwhile the Buckeyes came back to play a harder defense and ran a 14- 4 to take a point of 1o. lead with five minutes to half time, only to see Seton Hall end the half on a 7-2 streak and be trailed by five at the break, 30-25.
Justin Ahrens wasn’t the top scorer but he was a landmark story for Ohio State as he came out in the second half, immediately hit a long three off the wing and started a Buckeyes run that saw them amass that 12 point advantage at 3:00 p.m., highlighted by a Kyle Young three points off the top of the touchline.
Seton Hall called for a timeout and came back with a 5-0 run to gain the advantage, but a Meechie Johnson three and a clutch free throw by the Buckeyes helped keep the margin at eight points during the five. following minutes.
Gradually, however, Seton Hall kept playing, shooting and enjoying a few failed box outs, fortuitous offensive rebounds and moves to the line. By 8:00 a.m., they had reduced the lead to 53-48. Two minutes later, a three-point shot from Bryce Aiken had reduced him to 63-59.
A technical foul on Holtmann, protesting a perceived missed foul on a Liddell shot attempt, put Aiken back to the line where he hit a pair to reduce the lead to 63-61.
Ohio State kept coming in at Liddell and Kyle Young (12 points), and when they didn’t score they got fouled… and cashed those free throws to keep the four-point lead in the final few minutes.
Jared Rhoden would score his 29th point of the game with 50 seconds left to reduce Ohio State’s lead to 76-74, and after a missed shot from Ohio State, Seton Hall had the ball out of bounds in midfield . But Rhoden, standing near the half court line, touched the line with his foot and was whistled for a round trip, returning the ball to the Buckeyes. Liddell missed a shot from the right wing, recovered his own rebound and, on an attempt to throw the ball into the backcourt, it was recovered by Jamir Harris, who ran to the other end to score on a lay-up and tie the match at 76-76.
With final possession of the settlement, the spotlight fell on Meechie Johnson, who made a pass at the top of the key, retired a few paces behind the three-point line, and when Aiken hesitated to close on him, he threw a high-arched shot that caught the iron, but crossed the net with 2.3 seconds left.
“Meechie made a big play,” said Holtmann.
But he also credited his defense, for limiting Seton Hall to just 38 percent on shots after their scorching first ten minutes in the game.
“Our bench came in and provided good minutes on the perimeter, both with our handling of the ball and a pretty solid defense. They have a lot of perimeter weapons and they were really packing them up and driving them. I thought we made too many mistakes and made a few ball screen errors, but other than that I thought we made a very solid defensive effort.
“But we performed really well offensively in the first half. It was by far our best execution game. We had a few shots – EJ and Kyle were tough clashes – and I thought what hurt us in the second half was that they got too far into the foul line. It’s amazing that two of our first five games were scored by freshmen in the last possession, and it’s a first for me. Meechie wasn’t even there at this time last year. And to his credit, he pulled it off and made a crazy game… and the players are winning matches. “
The Buckeyes finished 48% from the field, 50% from three points and 88% from the foul line. Justin Ahrens would finish with 5 of 8 from distance and 17 points, a season high. Kyle Young had 12 and Johnson finished with 8 points.
Seton Hall finished 38% from the field, just 22% from the three-point distance, and reached 85% from the foul line.