But OSU fell behind the Tigers by 10 points twice in the first half. However, the 24th-ranked Buckeyes once again were able to ride a strong defensive effort down the stretch to a 74-65 before 13,598 at Value City Arena.
"For whatever reason, we weren't as sharp as we needed to be," said OSU coach Thad Matta, whose team improved to 8-0 on the year.
OSU twice trailed by as many as 10 points in the first half. Tennessee State (2-4) later grabbed a 55-52 lead after Kareem Grant made a layup with 10:49 left. But the Buckeyes then reeled off 13 unanswered points and held TSU scoreless for over 7-1/2 minutes to take a 65-55 advantage.
"We were more active," Matta said. "We were taking away their penetration better. We were helping and recovering better. It was a constant reminder during the timeouts to ‘Do what we do.' We did a decent job of that in stretches. The great thing is we can play better basketball."
Tennessee State clawed within five on Wayne Arnold's jumper that cut it to 65-60 with 2:52 left.
But the Buckeyes put the game away as Jamar Butler hit a three-pointer off a save by Terence Dials with 2:25 left, Dials completed a three-point play with 1:37 left and Butler made three free throws with 55.4 seconds left.
Dials and Je'Kel Foster led the Buckeyes with 19 points. Dials, who also had a team-high six rebounds, came out of a recent slump by hitting on 8 of 13 shots from the floor.
"In order for us to be a good basketball team, Terence is going to have to play well for us," Matta said. "It was good to see him get back on track. He seemed more fluent in his movement tonight."
Dials added, "I just got a lot of easy baskets. Our guards got me the ball in position where I could score. That made it easy for me."
Foster continued his torrid pace, making 6 of 10 shots from the floor and 4 of 5 at the foul line to go with three assists and three steals.
"You've got to give Tennessee State a lot of credit," Foster said. "They played their hearts out. We had to come together and play harder than they were playing. We're just glad to come out with a win."
Butler scored all 10 of his points in the second half and also dished out seven assists in the win for the Buckeyes.
Sylvester Mayes added eight points for OSU. Ron Lewis had been the only OSU player to score in double figures in all seven previous games. But he finished this game with seven points. Matt Sylvester had five, Matt Terwilliger scored four and J.J. Sullinger had a season-low two points.
Arnold paced Tennessee State with 23 points, hitting 7 of 8 shots from behind the three-point arc. Bruce Price added 14 points, but it was feared he could be lost for the season after suffering a knee injury near the end of the game. Reiley Ervin also had 12 points.
"We've been in every game," said TSU coach Cy Alexander. "We were leading against Georgia Tech and leading against Southern Miss. "We've been on the road for five straight games. I would venture to say if we played a couple of those games at home we might have won them. We wanted to come in and establish a mental and physical toughness, and I think we did that."
Arnold came out of the gate firing, hitting on 4 of 5 three-pointers and scoring 12 points in the first half. Tennessee State jumped ahead 24-14 after an Arnold trey with 11:26 left in the half. The Tigers still led at 26-16 after Larry Turner had a dunk with 9:11 left.
"Coach told us how good they were," Dials said. "They came into this game with nothing to lose. They were playing a ranked team. We knew they were going to give us their all and they did for 40 minutes. I have to give them a lot of credit."
But Ohio State, keyed by three three-pointers from Foster, outscored TSU 24-5 over the remainder of the half to grab a 40-31 halftime lead.
"I credit my teammates for getting me wide open shots," Foster said. "When that happens, I just do what I can to knock them down."
The Tigers made one more charge in the second half. They tied the game at 51-51 on Arnold's trey with 12:35 left. Price hit a pair of free throws with 11:57 left – after a rare technical on Sullinger for slapping the backboard on a block attempt – to go up 53-51. Grant's layup with 10:42 left gave TSU a 55-52 lead.
But this is were the Buckeyes dialed up the defense. They held the Tigers scoreless over 10 straight possessions. Meanwhile, the OSU offense kicked into gear with its 13-0 run. Foster started it with a jumper. Dials followed with a hook inside and then made 1 of 2 free throws. Lewis was fouled on a drive and made a pair of free throws. Foster then made 1 of 2 free throws. Lewis made 1 of 2 at the line before Butler had a layup and Foster capped the run with another jumper for a 65-55 lead with 3:35 left.
"Everything starts on the defensive end," Dials said. "We gave them a lot of easy baskets. They also made some hard shots. We just tried to make sure all of their shots were tough. We picked up the intensity on the defensive end. That made our offense flow a little bit better."
There were some anxious moments after Arnold hit his jumper off an inbounds play to cut it to 65-60 with 2:52 left.
But Dials recovered a fumbled entry pass near the baseline and spotted a wide open Butler at the top of the key. His three-pointer pushed the lead to 68-60 with 2:25 left.
"That was a big shot," Matta said. "It was good to see Jamar step up and knock that down."
Arnold then made a pair of free throws to cut it to 68-62 with 1:44 left. But Lewis broke TSU's pressure and dished to Dials for a slam. He was fouled. His free throw gave OSU a 71-62 lead with 1:37 left. Butler capped OSU's scoring with three free throws with 55.4 seconds left.
"This is another lesson for us," Matta said. "We had to pick up our defensive intensity. This is the third straight game in the second half where we had to buckle down and get some stops."
* OSU remained one of 12 unbeaten teams in Division I.
The other 11 are Illinois (12-0), Duke (11-0), Florida (11-0), Washington (10-0), Clemson (11-0), Pittsburgh (8-0), Connecticut (9-0), George Washington (8-0), Villanova (8-0), Texas A&M (8-0) and Indiana State (8-0).
* The Buckeyes are 8-0 for the first time since the 1990-91 season, when they opened 17-0. The 8-0 start is only the fourth for the Buckeyes since 1905-06.
* OSU is now 58-6 all-time in nonconference games at VCA.
* OSU is now 97-22 all-time in VCA, including 6-0 this year.
* OSU is now 28-12 under Matta, including a record of 21-2 at home.
* Ohio State will return to action Wednesday against Gardner Webb (8 p.m., ESPN-Plus) before wrapping up preconference play Dec. 31 against LSU (1 p.m., ESPN-Plus).