The Buckeyes took a home game two miles down the road to Nationwide Arena Saturday and made themselves right at home, defeating Virginia Tech 62-57 before a crowd of 14,248.
The game was played at Nationwide Arena as a dry run for the NCAA men's basketball first- and second-round tournament games scheduled for that building in March.
Ohio State (3-3) desperately needed a good showing after absorbing a 73-53 drubbing at the hands of No. 13 Georgia Tech Wednesday night at VCA. And while the full 40-minute effort could not be classified as good, it was a win nonetheless. OSU scored the game's first seven points -- all from J.J. Sullinger -- on its way to a 40-24 halftime advantage.
They then withstood several charges from Virginia Tech (3-3), which got the lead down to five points twice in the second half. The first time, OSU answered with a 9-0 run to get the lead back out to 14. That run was capped by an alley oop from Tony Stockman to Sullinger that brought the house down. The second time -- in the final minute -- Tech simply ran out of time.
"I think it was a vast improvement (over Wednesday)," OSU coach Jim O'Brien said. "It was good that we were a little bit more aggressive. I think we did a better job of trying to play harder and to play with a little bit more enthusiasm. That was one of the reasons we were able to get out to the lead we had in the first half."
The Hokies, from the Big East conference, were playing just 36 hours after dropping a heartbreaking 94-92 overtime decision at home to Old Dominion.
"I appreciated our players' effort in the second half," said Tech coach Seth Greenberg. "There is such a fine line between playing hard and competing … especially in this environment with a team as physical as them from the Big Ten."
Sullinger had 16 of his game-high 22 points in the first half. He hit 8 of 13 shots from the floor and also grabbed 11 rebounds.
"J.J. was on fire," O'Brien said. "We have told J.J. the last couple of weeks to be more assertive. In five games, he had four offensive rebounds. Today, he had three and nearly matched it in one game. That's a good thing. We need him to be more assertive and establish himself as one of our best players. He came out in the first half and played with a lot of intensity."
Tony Stockman came off the bench and added 14 points, four rebounds and five assists for OSU. Terence Dials added eight points and seven rebounds, while Velimir Radinovic had seven points and nine rebounds.
Zabian Dowdell led Virginia Tech with 18 points, while Bryant Matthews had 15 -- well below the 27.4 points per game he had been averaging and the 36- and 37-point outputs he had in his last two games.
"Matthews was in the 30s the last two games," O'Brien said. "I think Velimir and Terence did a good job of ganging up on him."
Dials added, "Coach wanted us to limit his touches. Every time he touched the ball, he wanted us to go down and double him. We knew if we could stop him, most likely we would be able to stop Virginia Tech."
For the game, the Hokies shot a dismal 32.8 percent (20 of 61) from the floor.
But OSU opened the door in the second half, shooting 36.4 percent (8 of 22) from the floor, 5 of 11 at the foul line and committing 10 turnovers.
Sullinger opened the game by hitting a floating jumper in the lane. He then hit a fade away jumper on the baseline and a three-pointer from the top of the key to put the Buckeyes up 7-0 with 17:10 left in the first half.
"It just started in the locker room," Sullinger said of his team's quick start. "We wanted to get at it and start hard. We knew we had to play harder than them. Luckily, we had some shots that were falling early."
Virginia Tech came back and took a 13-12 lead on Allen Calloway's layup with 12:06 left in the first half.
OSU responded by scoring the next 13 points. Radinovic opened the run with a driving layup and a fourth-chance basket inside. Matt Sylvester then rebounded a miss and scored. After Sullinger hit a pair of free throws, Sylvester hit an 8-foot jumper on the baseline. Stockman capped the run by hitting a three-pointer -- his first made shot after 13 straight misses, dating back to the Georgia Tech game -- to put the Buckeyes up 25-15 with 4:26 left in the first half.
The lead then went to 31-17 with 2:26 left in the half after Radinovic fed Stockman for a three and Radinovic completed a three-point play inside.
OSU then closed the half on a high note as Brandon Fuss-Cheatham hit an 18-foot jumper and Dials hit a pair of free throws for a 40-22 lead. Tech narrowed the gap to 40-24 as Fabian Davis scored late. Then, Tech's Jamon Gordon appeared to make a 45-foot three-pointer at the buzzer. But the officials took two minutes to review the videotape and discovered he released the ball just after the buzzer and waved it off.
Virginia Tech opened the second half with a 12-1 run. Dowdell had six of his points during this run as OSU opened the half by committing four turnovers and missing its first five shots.
Trailing 41-36, OSU embarked on a 9-0 run, keyed by a Stockman three-pointer and a rebound of his own miss. Then, he threw a perfect alley oop to Sullinger, whose flush put the Buckeyes back up 50-36 with 11:20 left in the game.
Virginia Tech later scored six straight to cut the OSU lead to 58-52 as Gordon made a layup off a Sullinger turnover with 3:46 left. The teams then traded two possessions with neither scoring before Dials tallied inside with a two-hand jam off a pass from Fuss-Cheatham to put the Buckeyes up 60-52 with 2:08 left.
Philip McCandies then made 1 of 2 free throws with 1:10 left to cut it to 60-53. Dials put it back out to nine with two free throws with 1:10 left. But Gordon was fouled on a drive and made two free throws to cut it to 62-55 with 24.9 seconds left. On the inbounds play, Fuss-Cheatham threw the ball right to Dowdell, who was fouled. His two free throws cut it to 62-57.
Tech was unable to draw any closer, despite the fact that Stockman missed a front end with 20.3 seconds left and Dials missed two free throws with 2.0 seconds remaining.
"Are we where we need to be? No," Sullinger admitted. "We displayed that in the last five minutes. We need to continue to learn how to win games and execute better down the stretch. We're working at it, but we won the game. That's a start."
OSU will now take the next week off for autumn quarter exams before hosting Samford next Saturday (2 p.m.).
"We know we haven't played to our abilities or to our expectations," Sullinger said. "We haven't been doing it. Coach has been trying to push us and make us better. I think this gets it started. I think we started moving in the right direction today."