Madison Square Garden played host to Ohio State and Notre Dame last night in a game that turned out to be an instant classic. Ohio State trailed 58-50 with 58 seconds to play, but went on a 14-3 run in the final minute to win 64-61 and remain unbeaten. Perhaps the most remarkable stat of the night was that the Buckeyes scored 14 points in the final minute after only scoring 17 points in the previous 19 minutes of the second half. It was a huge win for the Buckeyes, but it also raises a lot of questions moving forward.
Ohio State struggled offensively for most of the night but played well enough to take a 33-26 lead into halftime. Notre Dame, a team that typically shoots the ball well, didn’t make a single 3-pointer in the first half. It appeared that Ohio State was in route to another victory built on their suffocating defense, but things changed quickly in the second half. Notre Dame came out of the gates scorching hot, and quickly took the lead. To make matters worse for the Buckeyes, they went on a 9 minute drought without making a field goal. The tables had turned and an undefeated season appeared to be coming to an end as Notre Dame had taken complete control of the game.
As the final minute approached, Notre Dame held a 58-50 lead and had the ball. The Buckeye defense then forced a turnover, and the seemingly impossible rally began. After Ohio State scored to cut the lead to 58-52, they set up their full court press. The Buckeye press proved to be the turning point, and in the blink of an eye they forced two straight steals and scores to cut the lead to 58-56. On the next Buckeye possession after Notre Dame free throws, Lenzelle Smith Jr was fouled on a 3 point attempt. The senior then calmly stepped to the line and knocked down all 3 free throws to cut the lead to 60-59. Notre Dame went on to miss a free throw, and Aaron Craft raced down the floor and found Lenzelle Smith Jr. down low for a layup. Just like that, Ohio State had come all the way back to take the lead. Craft then forced another turnover, and Lenzelle Smith Jr. made 2 more free throws that put the game away for good. The final score: Ohio State 64 Notre Dame 61.
It was certainly one of the better comebacks in recent memory and should provide a big confidence boost for this Buckeye team, but it also raises many concerns as they prepare for conference play in arguably the best conference in college basketball. Offensively, this Buckeye team lacks a go to scorer. They also lack a consistent outside shooter and at times seem to be lost and stagnant offensively. If the opposing team gets hot, this team is at risk of being in deep trouble, particularly when the offense sputters as it did against Notre Dame in the second half. Ohio State has shown the ability to be a solid offensive team with great balance, but consistency has continued to be an issue. As Big Ten play approaches, it will be really interesting to see how Ohio State fares against top level competition. There is no arguing that they are one of the best defensive teams in the nation, but they will need to show a lot of improvement offensively if they want to make a deep run in March.