Ohio State seemed to have a comfortable game ahead as the team took the court for the first time since Dec. 5. With 5:09 to go in the first half, the Buckeyes had a 37-25 lead as sophomore forward Kaleb Wesson recorded a team-leading 13 points and six rebounds.
Bucknell, who was playing in its first game since Dec. 4, shook off some rust from the start, going on a 15-0 run at the end of the first half, hitting three 3s in that span and taking a 40-39 lead into halftime.
Bucknell continued to make it close at the end of the game, bringing the game to within two after junior guard Avi Toomer hit a 3 with 20 seconds left to bring the Bison to within two points.
But Ohio State secured its ninth win of the season, forcing the Bison to shoot 30.8 percent in the second half to close out a 73-71 win against Bucknell.
Redshirt senior guard Keyshawn Woods knew Bucknell had an affinity for the deep ball, coming into the game with 180 3-point attempts, which was something, especially in the first half, Ohio State was not able to stop.
“We knew that going in, but lack of detail on our end as players. Not paying attention enough to stop their runs with the 3s and everything,” Woods said. “Some way, somehow we found a way to win the game.”
From the start, Wesson was the main point of attack for an Ohio State offense that did not seem to miss a beat despite its 10-day break. A 6-foot-9, 270-pound forward, more than 30 pounds heavier than any player on the Bison roster, Wesson scored or assisted on each of Ohio State’s first 15 points, beginning the game with three assists on the first three scores.
Wesson finished the game with a career-high 22 points, connecting on six for 11 from the field and nine of 10 from the free throw line, with a season-high rebounds, which ties a career high, recording his first career double-double.
Ohio State outrebounded the Bison 39-29 in the 2-point win.
Even with the mismatch down low for the Bison, Bucknell found a way to stay in the game, making nine of 17 from 3 in the first half, with senior forward/center Nate Sestina, sophomore forward John Meeks and Toomer combining to make six of nine from deep.
And this was something Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann was expecting to see.
“They have five guys in their starting lineup that are going to shoot 3s,” Holtmann said. “If they get on a roll and start making 3s, it’s going to be a long night for us.”
Ohio State freshman guard Duane Washington tried to integrate that aspect into the Buckeyes’ offense, scoring eight points off the bench, including two 3s.
But the Bison continued to pick at the Ohio State defense from deep, a defense that has failed to allow 40 points or more in a half this season prior to Saturday’s game.
After Bucknell senior guard Kimball Mackenzie hit a 3 with 3:24 left in the half, the Bison chipped away Ohio State’s double-digit lead, taking the lead after sophomore guard Jimmy Sotos hit a 3 with 36 seconds left in the half, Bucknell’s first lead of the game.
The hot Bucknell offense carried over into the second half as the Bison came out on a 9-2 run, taking advantage of a cool Ohio State offense that made only one of its first five field goal attempts. The Bisons led by as much as eight points in the second half.
After freshman guard Luther Muhammad hit a jumper to lower the Buckeyes’ deficit to six points, Ohio State hit its next six attempts from the field. Woods hit two 3s, helping the Buckeyes to an 10-0 run, retaking its lead with 12:22 left in the game.
Woods hit 3 of 6 shot attempts in the second half, including 2-of-2 from 3, finishing the game with 13 points in 27 minutes off the bench.
Senior guard C.J. Jackson also stepped up, recording eight points, six rebounds and three assists in the second half. Jackson’s six assists were the most he has recorded in a game since March 2.
After Sotos hit a jumper with 10:25 to go in the second half, Bucknell did not connect on another shot attempt until 2:33, connecting on two of its 17 field goal attempts.
This was something that Holtmann and the coaching staff planned to adjust for the second half: creating pressure on the outside that he said was not there in the first 20 minutes of play.
In the second half, Bucknell hit on three of 13 from deep.
“We were pressing the ball more. We put more pressure on the ball, so they couldn’t make pinpoint passes to how they was in the first half,” Woods said. “Pressure on the ball and everybody rotating and actually closing out, it kind of stopped their rhythm a little bit.”
But Ohio State struggled offensively late as well, failing to record a field goal after Muhammad’s layup with 5:38 to go in the game.
After Bucknell’s 13-4 run to end the game, bringing the Bison to within two points, Holtmann said he, as the head coach, has to place his players in a better position to succeed at the ends of halves.
“It’s a little bit tricky when you are up with a 10-point lead and the other team’s kind of throwing in shots, but I have to do a better job of getting out guys finishing games better, not just making free throws, but our offensive possessions,” Holtmann said.
With Bucknell’s game plan and what it does well, Holtmann felt that this could be a closer game. But he said Ohio State will define itself as it overcomes adversity, such as Saturday afternoon’s performance.
“I think it’s a step. I don’t think we are there yet,” Holtmann said. “I did think we would play in a lot of close games this year and I thought this could be one. And I think that is when we will see leadership at its best.”
No. 15 Ohio State will try and continue its winning streak at home against Youngstown State at 7 p.m on Tuesday.
Updated with quotes from Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann and redshirt senior guard Keyshawn Woods at 3:13 p.m.