Then Lenzelle Smith Jr. showed up.
The senior guard reeled off nine points in the game's final 45 seconds as the Buckeyes closed the game on a 14-3 run to escape the BlackRock Gotham Classic with a 64-61 win over the Fighting Irish. Smith's string of points couldn't have come at a better time for Ohio State, who struggled from the field until the game's final 50 seconds.
Trailing by a score of 58-50 after Jerian Grant 3-pointer with 1:57 remaining, the Buckeyes' first loss of the season seemed inevitable but never came to fruition on Saturday. Despite missing three ensuing shots, Ohio State found some much needed momentum when LaQuinton Ross connected on a jumper to cut the Notre Dame lead to six with 50 seconds remaining.
From there, Smith stole the show -- and the ball -- connecting on a layup before Shannon Scott took away another Irish inbounds attempt. Scott then connected on two free throws before the Buckeyes got the ball back after two Demetrius Jackson made two freebies of his own.
Trailing by four, Smith threw up a desperate 3-pointer in front of the OSU bench, only to be fouled by Pat Connaughton with 32 seconds remaining. The Zion, Ill. connected on all three free throws to cut the Notre Dame lead to one before Steve Vasturia missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw series, giving the Buckeyes the ball back after a Smith rebound.
The ball would soon be back in Smith's hands, as Aaron Craft found his classmate along the baseline for what was ultimately the game-winning layup. Smith and Craft then closed out the game from the free throw line, sealing what one minute earlier seemed like an improbable victory.
Prior to their final minute flurry, the Buckeyes didn't seem like they could buy a bucket as they went more than nine minutes without a made field goal in the middle of the second half. On the night, Ohio State connected on just 41.8 percent of its shots, an inefficient effort that was highlighted by a 3-for-18 performance from 3-point range.
Leading the way for Ohio State was Ross, who finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds, as Amir Williams added 13 points and Craft and Scott each added 10. The Fighting Irish were paced by Grant, who scored 18 points, and Garrick Sherman who added 14.
With the win, the second-ranked Buckeyes advance to 12-0 on the season and will now look forward to their non-conference regular season finale on Friday, a 7 p.m. tip with Louisiana-Monroe at the Schottenstein Center.