Defense Keys Cagers To Win Over Butler

A matchup of good basketball teams in Value City Arena on Saturday came right down to the wire, and oppressive defense made sure the Buckeyes came away with a victory. Ohio State stayed unbeaten with a win against Butler thanks to a good defensive effort that preserved a 54-51 win all the way to the final possession.

As one might have expected, a hard-fought defensive affair Saturday in Value City Arena came down to a final stand that ended with a missed shot.

Butler freshman Gordon Hayward missed a three-pointer from the left wing as time expired and the 21st-ranked Ohio State men's basketball team held on to a 54-51 win over the visiting Bulldogs in front of 13,976 fans during their first game in a week.

Hayward had a game-high 25 points while making 7 of 11 threes, but David Lighty harassed him enough that the final shot hit the back iron as the horn sounded. As a result, a Butler rally that erased a 13-point second half deficit fell just short.

"We just knew that like 10 straight times up the floor, they kept setting ball screens and then have a man pop out, and they were trying to get three-point shots off of it," said Ohio State's Evan Turner, who had a team-high 14 points. "We knew they were probably going to try to give it to Hayward to shoot the three, so we just had to stick it out."

The Bulldogs (8-1), who entered in the top five in the nation in RPI, fell from the ranks of the unbeaten while Ohio State stayed there at 6-0.

"We didn't have the intensity we needed throughout stretches," Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said. "Obviously, we had enough. I'm very, very pleased we beat a great basketball team."

It wasn't always pretty, though, as the teams combined for 34 turnovers against just 19 assists. Butler shot below 35 percent in each half, while Ohio State was at an even 30 percent in the second.

That was brought on by shoddy offense late. The Buckeyes made just one field goal during the game's final 12:30 while missing eight shots from the floor and committing three turnovers.

"We had a lot of good shots that just went in and out," Turner said.

As a result, the Buckeyes' lead slowly evaporated from 13 with 15:40 to go to zero when Hayward hit a three to tie the score at 51 with 3:58 to go.

But the Bulldogs didn't score again thanks to six missed field goals – five of which were three-pointers – after the shot Hayward canned. Ohio State used its only field goal of the final 12 minutes to take the lead for good when Turner hit a tough jumper while being fouled with 3:07 to play. A free throw by Dallas Lauderdale with 1:02 to go set the final score, but it was the only made free throw of five the Buckeyes had starting with Turner's missed chance after his hoop.

"It's funny because free-throw shooting had won us our last two games, and for whatever reason we just weren't very good," Matta said. "You get the 13-point lead and the free throws have got to be the point where you're going to extend it."

What saved Ohio State was Butler's similar inability to find the bottom of the basket. The Bulldogs shot 29.2 percent (7 of 24) in the second half and watched the Buckeyes block three shots in the half, including one by Lauderdale on a Zach Hahn three-pointer that brought the arena to its feet and caused Lauderdale to slap hands with courtside fans.

"I think when our free throws weren't going in, none of us flinched because we had total confidence in our defense," said Lauderdale, who finished with four swats. "We just knew we had to get a swat."

Turner led the Buckeyes in scoring while putting in nine points in the second half, while Lighty was the only Buckeye to also hit double digits with 10. Lighty and Lauderdale each had eight rebounds and Lauderdale had nine points. Jon Diebler had eight while making 3 of 4 shots, while point guard Jeremie Simmons had seven and backup center B.J. Mullens had six to cap the scoring.

Butler guard Shelvin Mack scored 13 points but he made just 3 of 11 field goals. Forward Matt Howard was effective at times, finishing with 11 points and 10 rebounds. The rest of the team combined for just two points; starting guard Ronald Nored missed all three of his shots to end scoreless, while guard Willie Veasley had one point, two rebounds, no assists and five turnovers. The other point was a made free throw by backup Shawn Vanzant.

Butler committed a season-high 19 turnovers but Ohio State had just 13 points off of them, including none on the fast break.

"One thing we're always trying to do is convert off of the turnovers," Matta said. "We didn't do that today. They did a great job of getting back off of missed shots and turnovers."

The first half started with teams trading baskets before the defenses took over to the tune of double digits in turnovers for each team.

Those turnovers were the only things keeping Ohio State from lighting up the scoreboard – the Buckeyes made an even 50 percent of their 22 shots – and Butler was ice cold save for Hayward, who made 4 of 5 threes on the way to a half-high of 14 points. Losing the freshman in their zone defense was about the only place the Buckeyes went wrong, as his teammates combined to make just 3 of 15 field goals.

"It was great that we were able to maintain some form of poise when we were down 13 and have a chance to win it at the end, but I noticed that the guys in that locker room don't take any solace in losing," Butler head coach Brad Stevens said. "I think that gives them a chance."

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