Ohio State (3-0) staved off a late comeback attempt by Texas Southern (0-3) and held on to win 82-64 at the Schottenstein Center on Thursday.
Ohio State forwards Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate led the Buckeyes to victory with 17 points and 12 rebounds and 17 points and seven rebounds, respectively.
Head coach Chris Holtmann said the team will not always rely on Bates-Diop and Tate to carry the team, but they have been growing as leaders.
“I just said, ‘Embrace it and really focus in on making the next right play,’” Holtmann said. “And it’s not like it’s always going to fall on their shoulders, but I want them to have the courage to step up and make the play when it’s there for them.”
Ohio State appeared to be coasting to its third straight victory, but Texas Southern did not go quietly. The Buckeyes led 54-37 with 14:17 remaining in the second half, when the Tigers went on an 8-0 run in barely more than one minute of game time.
Bates-Diop ended the run with a 3-pointer but Texas Southern guard Robert Lewis answered with a 3-pointer of his own. Following an Ohio State timeout, Tigers guard Donte Clark scored four quick points to cut the Buckeye lead to five.
Tate responded by catching a backdoor pass from guard C.J. Jackson and finishing a two-handed dunk. Tiger forward Kevin Scott immediately answered with a jumper to cut the lead back down to five.
Lewis hit another 3-pointer to make it just a two-point game. Ohio State responded by finding sophomore center Micah Potter for a basket inside. On the Buckeyes next possession they went to Potter again who drew a shooting foul and made both free throws.
The Buckeyes were able to string together consecutive stops on defense and capitalize with points of their own. After Lewis’ 3-pointer cut the lead to two, Ohio State responded with an 16-2 run over the next 3:18 to put the Buckeyes up 18. Ohio State would not look back from there.
Potter knocked down 9-of-10 free throws overall and 5-of-6 in the final six minutes of the tightly contested game. He credited the Buckeyes’ new coach for keeping the team relaxed under pressure.
“The biggest thing, coach was very calm,” Potter said. “He was just saying the entire time, ‘Guys, this is exactly what we want. This is exactly what we want and this is fun. This is competitive basketball and this is what makes the game fun.’”
The Buckeyes and the Tigers battled back and forth for most of the first half.
No Tigers player besides guard Derrick Bruce scored for a six-minute stretch in the first half, but Texas Southern only trailed 17-15 with 8:13 remaining. Jallow then threw down a dunk in traffic, inciting a 16-2 Ohio State run where the Buckeyes seized all momentum.
The Buckeyes’ big run included a hustle rebound by senior forward Jae’Sean Tate where he grabbed and tossed the ball to redshirt senior point guard Andrew Dakich as he fell out of bounds. Dakich patiently waited as Tate sprinted down the floor and passed him the ball. Tate immediately zipped the ball to junior point guard C.J. Jackson for a 3-pointer, erupting the crowd and prompting Texas Southern to call a timeout trailing 24-15.
The timeout did not slow the Buckeyes’ offense and Ohio State led 42-29 at halftime.
Holtmann was proud of how his team responded to the Tigers’ comeback run and reiterated that the team is still a work in progress.
“We are learning a lot about this group. — first and foremost — how we respond in those moments,” Holtmann said. “We’ve got a lot to work on — a lot to work on — but we can at least take that, our response from this game, and hopefully build on it.”
Texas Southern was without its leading scorer, Demontrae Jefferson (21 points per game), who did not make the trip to Columbus. Ohio State had its own key player missing as freshman forward Kaleb Wesson was suspended by the team prior to tipoff.
Ohio State will host Northeastern at 2 p.m. Saturday in the Schottenstein Center.