One night after laying an egg for the first 38 minutes in a loss to No. 4 North Carolina, the No. 15 Buckeyes rebounded and dispatched No. 12 California 76-70 in the consolation game of the 2K Sports Classic.
"I thought especially early on and early on in the second half our guys played very hard," OSU assistant coach Archie Miller told the Ohio State Basketball Radio Network. "We executed much better today and found a way to get it done."
The Buckeyes (3-1) never led against UNC, and they gave up the first basket this time against Cal (2-2). Whereas the Tar Heels jumped out to a 7-0 lead before OSU could dent the scoreboard, this game saw the Buckeyes take little time to retaliate.
In his first start of the season, junior center Dallas Lauderdale scored on his team's first possession, knotting the score at 2 and starting what would be an 8-0 Buckeye run. Also encouraging was the fact that the run was filled out by three-pointers from junior Jon Diebler and sophomore William Buford, who each struggled against UNC. When Diebler connected off of a screen to make it 5-2 nearly two minutes into the game, he gave his team a lead it would not relinquish.
Cal would counter with a 5-0 run that made it 8-7 in the early going, but junior OSU guard Evan Turner hit a jumper and Diebler connected on a three-pointer in transition to push the lead to six points in favor of the Buckeyes.
The Buckeyes firmly seized control when the second half kicked off. Leading 38-25 at the halfway point, Cal connected on a three-pointer to get the scoring going in the second half.
The Buckeyes countered with a 14-0 run punctuated by an alley-oop dunk from Turner to Buford that forced the Bears to call a timeout with the score 52-28.
Whatever was said in the team's huddle worked, because the Bears came out firing and wasted little time clawing their way back into the game. Cal countered the 14-0 run with a 17-2 run of their own, making it 54-45.
It helped keep the game close, but the Bears could get no closer than six points the rest of the way as the Buckeyes held on for the win.
"I think any time you look at our team, last year and this year, a huge emphasis for us is taking care of the basketball," Miller said. "North Carolina turned us over 16 times yesterday. Until the eight-minute mark we did an unbelievable job of handling the basketball. That was the difference between yesterday's game and today."
The Bears, who had been defeated one day earlier by No. 25 Syracuse, twice pulled within two during the midway point of the first half. A long three-pointer made it 21-19 in favor of the Buckeyes, but again they would counter – this time, for good.
Junior forward David Lighty found a lane and attacked the basket on the next possession to push the lead back to four points. Cal then turned the ball over on its next four possessions and missed a three-pointer on its fifth, and when Turner spun through the lane and connected it completed an 8-0 run that made it a 29-19 OSU lead.
Held to only four points in the first half, Turner had 22 in the final stanza to finish with a team-high 26 before fouling out in the final seconds of the game. He added 12 rebounds, giving him his fourth double-double to start the season. Diebler added 14 points, while Buford and Lighty had 12 and 11, respectively.
In all, only six Buckeyes scored: Lauderdale had eight points in a career-high 30 minutes, while senior Jeremie Simmons added five points off the bench.
Lauderdale also finished with seven blocked shots and affected a number of others.
"I think he also gave us an inside presence on the offensive end," Miller said. "He finished around the basket. He had a nice post move in the first half. His big lift, he was a presence inside. You have seven blocks in a game not counting the shots he altered around the basket, it was hard for them to score around the basket."
The Buckeyes head home with a split in the Big Apple and a lot to learn from.
"I think this tournament was huge for us," Miller said. "Any time you get to play the caliber of teams we got to play this early in the season, you find out a lot about your team. We're going to watch a lot of film, break that film down and get better. To play North Carolina and California this year, it's a great test for our team."