COLUMBUS — Ohio State received all it could handle from Oakland on Monday night before pulling away in the final minute for a 79-73 win to begin the season.
Roddy Gayle and Zed Key combined for 26 points in the second half to spark Ohio State, and Bruce Thornton chipped in with 17 points. Freshman Scotty Middleton added 13 points and eight rebounds in his first collegiate game.
Jack Gohlke led Oakland with 18 points on 6-18 shooting from three, and Trey Townsend added 17 points. Oakland combined to attempt 35 threes, making 14 in the near upset.
Oakland jumped out to an 11-5 lead at the first media timeout thanks to a trio of three-pointers, and the lead grew to 21-14 midway through the opening period as Ohio State’s offensive struggles continued against Oakland’s zone defense.
A pair of dunks by Felix Okpara on consecutive possessions brought Ohio State to within a point at the 7:45 mark, but Oakland maintained its lead deep into the first half.
Key’s jump hook with 2:42 remaining leveled the score at 31-31, and following an Oakland basket, Thornton’s three-pointer gave Ohio State its first lead of the game. Townsend’s bucket, part of an 11-point half, put Oakland back in front with a minute to play, and Ohio State wasn’t able to get a shot off before the horn sounded as Oakland took a 35-34 lead into the break.
Oakland went 6-12 from three in the first half, while Ohio State was just 3-15 and also committed six turnovers in a rough showing that would continue early in the second half.
The Oakland lead hovered around four points for the opening five minutes of the second half before a pair of threes from Middleton tied the game at the 13-minute mark. As it did for much of the night, though, Oakland answered quickly with a pair of threes from DQ Cole and Gohlke to recapture a 50-44 lead.
A quick three from Thornton on the ensuing possession cut the deficit to 50-47, and then Gayle and Key combined to take over the game for Ohio State.
Gayle’s personal 9-0 run turned a five-point Ohio State deficit into a 56-52 lead at the penultimate media timeout, and a nine-point scoring flurry from Key helped to maintain the lead as the game entered the final minutes.
Oakland refused to go away, and Gohlke’s shooting continued to keep his team in the game. His three with 2:34 remaining brought Oakland back to within a point at 68-67, but Thornton connected on his third three of the game on the ensuing possession to push the Ohio State lead back to four points.
A pair of free throws from Thornton increased the Ohio State lead to 73-67 in the final minute as Ohio State was finally able to find breathing room as the final seconds ticked away.
Following the game, Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said of his team, “Congrats to our guys for finding a way in this one. Oakland, boy, they gave us a lot of fits with their zone and their three-point shooting. They have a couple of guys who can really shoot it, and that gave us fits for most of the night. But I give our guys a ton of credit. They found a way to get some stops and make the necessary plays down the stretch in a game that could have gone either way.”
Holtmann said he was especially proud of Gayle, Key, and Thornton’s play in the second half when the team needed a lift, something he noted isn’t always easy to do when it feels like “the walls are closing in” in a game Ohio State was expected to win handily.
“We have to have better awareness, we have to guard the three-point line and have a better awareness of shooters,” he said. “We have to attack the zone (defense) better. But the biggest takeaway of this particular game is the poise those guys played within the last seven minutes.”
Ohio State returns to action on Friday when it hosts Texas A&M in Value City Arena. Tip-off for the game is set for 7 p.m.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.