It wasn’t easy, in a place where it’s NEVER easy, but the baby Buckeyes hold on to beat Creighton in the Dave Gavitt Tippoff.
Columbus – The groundwork that Ohio State laid for the better part of the game’s first 34 minutes looked to be turning into a mudslide when Creighton big man Martin Krampelj got his left hand on the ball in a scrum for a tip-in with 5:42 left to play.
That gave the Bluejays a 55-54 edge and erased what had been a carefully constructed 12-point lead in the second half.
The crowd of 17,146 inside the CHI Health Center in Omaha was going bonkers, and it looked like curtains for these baby Buckeyes in this Dave Gavitt Tipoff game.
Kyle Young, a sophomore forward, continued the slow bleed by missing two free throws.
But even a glass half empty person had to grudgingly give Ohio State a little pat on the behind in hanging tough to come out of one of college basketball’s hell holes with a 69-60 victory on Thursday night.
Creighton has been picked to finish ninth out of 10 teams in the Big East. This isn’t the type team that won 20 games seven of the previous eight seasons.
But Ohio State (3-0) did score the final 13 points of the game. It did get huge plays from Young, true freshmen Duane Washington Jr. and Luther Muhammad and senior graduate transfer Keyshawn Woods.
It was the first time a Big Ten team beat Creighton in Omaha since Illinois in 1968. The Bluejays were 13-1 against the conference, home or away, in their last 14 games.
“Let’s hop on that big bird and get out of here,’’ second-year Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann said on his post-game radio show on WBNS-97.1.
It was a valuable building block for a team that has three freshmen, three sophomores, a junior and only two seniors in the rotation.
“Players win games, and our guys stepped up to win the game for sure,’’ Holtmann said. “They really answered the bell when things weren’t looking good for us. I have confidence in our guys being able to finish the game, and they did.’’
Let’s break down the big plays that turned things around:
One…After Young clanked the free throws, Davion Mintz gave Creighton a 57-54 lead with a driving layup with 4:19 left. But Young picked himself up at the other end with a follow-up from in close.
Three…Old reliable C.J. Jackson came through with a three from the side with 2:08 left to provide a 62-60 edge. Until that bucket, he was 0-for-8 shooting.
Four…The advantage grew to 64-60 with 1:21 left when Woods slipped Young a slick pass for a two-handed dunk.
Five…Muhammad set the stage for Jackson’s dagger of a short jumper in the lane on an isolation by knocking the ball off Mintz’ left thigh and out of bounds with 1:07 left at the other end to gain possession.
Ohio State knocked down three of its final four free throws – one by Jackson and two by Andre Wesson – in the final 39.5 seconds.
“They punched us pretty good,’’ Holtmann said. “We knew they would make shots. We were struggling a little bit with the ball screen stuff they do and their patience in the half-court. We just tried to stay with it, made some adjustments in our ball screen coverage that allowed us to keep them from scoring at will. And against these guys you have to score or it feeds their transition.’’
Holtmann was disappointed in the players and himself for the way the Buckeyes started the game. They had four turnovers in the first 6 ½ minutes and missed six of their first seven shots.
The staff surely will pick apart a lot of other things before resuming a schedule that has them playing South Carolina State on Sunday, Samford on Tuesday and Cleveland State on Friday, all at Value City Arena. But those games won’t be going into the wolves den like Creighton.
Woods led Ohio State with 19 points on 7-for-13 shooting (3 of 5 behind the arc) and Washington was next with 12 points. He was 3-for-4 from three.
The team was 26-for-55 for 47.3 percent shooting, 10-for-21 from three-point range.
The stat that pops out the most is the Buckeyes out-rebounding the Bluejays 34-29. Eleven came at the offensive end, with Young getting four.
What did we learn?
Ohio State has been picked to finish eighth in the Big Ten, and that could happen with the conference absolutely tearing up the Big East in the Gavitt Tipoff. Wins came against that conference’s heavy hitters, Villanova, Xavier and Marquette.
The informal poll of the Big Ten media, though, had no idea how poised and competitive freshmen Muhammad, Washington and 6-foot-9 Jaedon LeDee are turning out to be or how wise and clutch Woods has been.
It’s early, but Muhammad and Washington have been making senior-type plays for three games, two games being on the road.
Also, the Buckeyes look like they are capable of playing that same beautiful team defense that they displayed last season. They can’t keep their hands to themselves, and in this case it’s a great thing.