It took 11 games and a trip to Brooklyn for them to do it, but Ohio State put it all together for the first time this season and topped Kentucky 74-67 in the CBS Sports Classic in New York.
The Buckeyes (6-5) shot as well as they had all season, hitting nine threes. They were as balanced as they’ve been all year as eight different Buckeyes scored and five had at least nine points. And Thad Matta’s young team defended better than it has so far this season, holding the No. 4 Wildcats (9-2) to their lowest point total of the season.
Perhaps more important than all of that was Ohio State’s relentless effort.
"We got on the floor for loose balls," Matta said. "We deflected passes, and guys laid out and got them. We had some guys get rebounds out of their area."
"Hopefully, we made our own breaks. I'm excited they were able to stay with what we were trying to do in the timeouts, and guys did a great job executing."
After holding a double digit lead for much of the second half, Kentucky used a 21-8 run to cut it the Buckeyes edge to 63-60 with 4:10 left. Just over a minute later multiple Ohio State players hit the floor for a loose ball with Daniel Giddens coming up with is and finding Kam Williams, who was intentionally fouled. The sophomore hit both and Giddens hit two on the ensuing possession to make extend the lead to 67-60.
Marc Loving credited the play of the Buckeyes' freshmen point guards -- A.J. Harris and JaQuan Lyle -- for the team's ability to stay composed when things got tight late.
"Just poise under pressure," the junior said. "JaQuan and A.J. really ran the show. We have to follow those guys. They handle the pressure the majority of the time other than us. I mean, hats off to A.J. and JaQuan. They really withstood the pressure throughout the whole game.
Kentucky wouldn’t go away, as Jamal Murray scored on the Wildcats next two possessions for five of his game-high 33 points, but the Buckeyes held on over the final two minutes to pull the upset.
It appeared that Kentucky was on its way to asserting its dominance late in the second half. Ohio State took a 16-point advantage, it’s largest of the game, at 55-39 with 11:28 left. A Loving steal set up a 4-on-1 break for Ohio State, but Giddens missed the layup, sparking the Wildcats run.
Kentucky hit its next four baskets, including eight points from Murray to cut into the lead. The Wildcats guard wasn’t done, as he scored 25 of his 33 points in the second half, hitting all seven of his threes in the second 20 minutes.
"The fact that Murray got rolling today, that was one of the best performances I've seen in a short period of time," Matta said. "Keita (Bates-Diop) a couple of times was right there. He just shot over him.
"The defense was definitely the key for us. We did not let our offense affect our defense. We had some tough stretches, and that was big."
A three from Alex Poythress made cut it to 63-60 and set up the hustle play from Giddens. The Buckeyes hit 7-of-8 free throws in the final 2:56 to hold on to the advantage and the Wildcats would not be within one possession again.
The Buckeyes started slow, hitting just one of their first six field goal attempts, but bounced back by hitting 10 of their next 12.
After Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis answered four points from Trevor Thompson with seven of his own to give the Wildcats a 7-4 lead, Lyle scored five straight to push Ohio State to a 9-7 advantage. Kentucky would not lead the rest of the way.
A three from Lyle at the halftime buzzer allowed the Buckeyes to take a 37-25 lead to the locker room at the Barclays Center in front of a predominantly pro-Kentucky crowd. Ohio State hit seven of its threes in the first half as Lyle led the team with eight at the break.
The freshman point guard finished with 11, one of four Buckeyes in double figures. Loving had 12 points and 8 rebounds while Bates-Diop had a team-high 14. Thompson added 10. Jae’Sean Tate battled through foul trouble, but finished with 6 points and 10 rebounds. Williams added nine big points off the bench while Harris, who provided valuable minutes and was adept at breaking the Kentucky press, added six points, all from three.
The Buckeyes lead for all but 4:29 of the upset victory.