The Ohio State men’s basketball team opened the 2016-17 season with a 78-68 win against Navy in the third annual Veterans Classic.
The OSU offense struggled in the first five minutes of the game. Its second made field goal did not come until the 14:58 mark. Junior forward Keita Bates-Diop hit an elbow jump-shot on a feed from sophomore guard JaQuan Lyle to trim the Navy lead to 8-6.
Junior forward Jae’Sean Tate made a layup 52 seconds into the game to even the game at 2-2 for Ohio State's first field goal. From then until Bates-Diop's jumper, the Buckeyes missed three shots and went 2 of 5 from the foul line. Senior forward Marc Loving and junior center Trevor Thompson each made a free throw. Three blocks on the defensive end during that stretch kept the game close early on.
Bates-Diop's first field goal began a stretch in which he and junior forward Kam Williams scored a combined 19 of the team’s next 21 points. Bates-Diop had 12 while Williams had seven during that span. Thompson was responsible for the other two when he dunked it with 12:44 remaining in the first half. The run culminated with a three-pointer by Bates-Diop at the 7:04 mark to give the Buckeyes a 25-20 lead.
In the final seven-plus minutes, each team scored eight points, giving OSU a 33-28 advantage at halftime. Loving hit a three, Bates-Diop hit another jumper and Lyle knocked down a three-ball as well.
Ohio State then exploded for 21 points in the first 9:10 of the second half to build a 54-42 lead. Tate started the outburst with a layup and jumper. Thompson then had an old-fashioned three-point play when he converted his one free throw after being fouled while making a layup.
Loving had a layup of his own before Williams hit his second and third threes of the night that were sandwiched around another Thompson layup. Tate and Loving capped the run with emphatic dunks.
Navy then called a timeout in an attempt to stop the bleeding. It didn’t help much because Williams and Loving knocked down threes on consecutive possessions to increase Ohio State’s lead to 60-45 with 9:29 left in the contest.
From there, OSU’s lead fluctuated between 18 and 11 points until Navy trimmed the Buckeye advantage to 69-59 with 4:14 to play. Sophomore guard Hasan Abdullah hit one from beyond the arc on a pass from junior guard Shawn Anderson.
Ohio State led by at least 10 points the rest of the way to win the season opener by a final margin of, 78-68.
Lyle, however, only played two minutes in the second half. Sophomore transfer C.J. Jackson took over the point-guard duties for the bulk of the final 20 minutes.
“LaQuan was really, really struggling on the defensive end of the floor and he was trying to make some home-run plays and C.J. just kept the ball moving," said OSU head coach Thad Matta after the game. "With the match-up they were playing, I told the guys that the best friend we had was ball movement. We want to force (the defense) into rotations. We want to force them into long closeouts and you can’t do that when the ball is being held. They can adjust and I thought C.J. did a tremendous job of just keeping the flow going."
Williams led the team in scoring with 23 points on 7-of-9 shooting, making 5 of 6 three-point attempts.
“I was just taking what the defense was giving me," Williams said of why he had such a successful night shooting the ball. "I have been putting in the work all summer. They were playing off so I was just letting it fly.”
Bates-Diop, meanwhile, paced the squad with 14 total rebounds and was second on the team with 14 points.
"With my length, I have a very long wingspan and I am tall, so I am able to get my hands on a lot of balls and I did that tonight,” Bates-Diop said on why he played such a big role in the win.
The team faltered when it came to committing fouls and turnovers, however, finishing with 23 fouls and 17 giveaways.
Going forward, Matta knows those aspects of his team's game must be cleaned up.
"The biggest thing at halftime was attempt to quit fouling as much," Matta said. "Obviously, 17 turnovers is unacceptable in terms of guys trying to catch with one hand, a one-hand pass here and there. Those are things that we’ve got to get corrected.”