CHICAGO – Ohio State’s freshmen have been the story of this season, for better or worse.
On a Thursday afternoon at the United Center, Roddy Gayle put his name in the better category. The freshman guard hit the go-ahead 3-pointer, sank two clutch late free throws and helped No. 13 seed Ohio State rally late and fend off No. 5 seed Iowa in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament, 73-69.
The Buckeyes will face No. 4 seed Michigan State at approximately 2:30 p.m. ET on Friday. The first four games of this year’s Big Ten Tournament have featured the lower-seeded team winning each time.
“I think it speaks to the depth of the league, which we all know really well,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. “The league is really deep and balanced. I think we’re just focused on continuing to play well, which we’ve done for the last few weeks. Just want to focus on that.”
Iowa took a four-point lead on a Payton Sandfort dunk to make it 55-51 with 8:59 to play, and Ohio State tied the game three times only to then give up the lead once again.
On their fourth try, Gayle splashed a 3-pointer − his first since Feb. 23 − to give the Buckeyes a 64-61 lead with 3:23 to play. The shot made him responsible for seven of Ohio State’s last nine points to that point, and it marked the 18th lead change of the game.
“We practice this stuff, late-moment games, time and score,” Gayle said. “It just felt comfortable, just felt like another shot, another game honestly.”
Iowa had a chance to reclaim the lead with 2:26 remaining but Tony Perkins missed two free throws to keep Ohio State ahead 64-63. On a wild possession that saw the Hawkeyes nearly come up with a steal on two occasions, the ball found its way to Justice Sueing on the left wing.
With about three seconds left on the shot clock, he buried it for a 67-63 lead, and Ohio Sate held on from there despite a wild sequence with about 20 seconds left. Iowa’s pressure forced the ball loose under its own basket, and as players from each team flung their bodies at the ball the play continued toward the Ohio State basket before being whistled dead with 11.5 seconds for a kicked ball.
The Buckeyes maintained possession, Iowa fouled Sueing with 9.4 seconds left and he went to the line for a one-and-one situation. A 73.4% shooter this season, he hit the first, Iowa called timeout and he hit the second to set the final score.
Ohio State is the third No. 13 seed to win two games in the Big Ten Tournament since the league expanded to 14 teams for the 2014-15 season. No team that has played on Wednesday of the tournament has advanced into the weekend.
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Gayle scored all 9 of his points in the final 6:02.
“In the last month, we have found the way to play the right way when things didn’t go our way,” Holtmann said. “We didn’t do that for stretches. It took us getting knocked in the teeth several times to understand that there’s a way you play when you are struggling that is the right way, and if you do that you have a chance to win. And I think this validates that.”
The last time these teams met, Ohio State’s defensive performance was historically bad. Not only did the Hawkeyes connect on 56.9% of their shots in the 92-75 win at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Feb. 16, but Iowa’s adjusted offensive efficiency rating of 138.9 marked the highest allowed by Ohio State in KenPom.com history, which dates back to the 2001-02 season.
Playing with what seemed a more deliberate pace, Ohio State was able to scratch out a 29-28 lead at the half while holding the Hawkeyes to 2-of-10 shooting from 3-point range. The Buckeyes broke a 28-all tie when Isaac Likekele drew a foul on Connor McCaffery with 18.3 seconds left and hit one of two free throws. Iowa called timeout, scripted a play for Kris Murray and had to settle for a deep, contested shot from the left wing that was well off the mark.
The Hawkeyes had scored at least 42 points during the first half of each of their last three games.
“The past couple of weeks, we have been playing our best basketball even though the results may not have been showing it,” Sueing said. “I think every day coming in with the mentality that everything is going to fall in line at some point worked, and now everything is falling in line.”
After committing shot-clock violations on two of their first seven possessions of the game, the Buckeyes settled in on a Bruce Thornton jumper in the paint that made it a 9-6 Iowa lead. Classmate Brice Sensabaugh followed with six straight points, and when Justice Sueing tipped in his own miss Ohio State had a 14-13 lead and had scored on five straight possessions. The Buckeyes’ lead would get as high as six points in the first half when Sensabaugh drove, forced Iowa’s defense to collapse and fed Sean McNeil in the right corner for a 3-pointer.
That made it 21-15 with 7:48 to play, but Iowa would claw back and take a 24-23 lead on a powerful Filip Rebraca right-handed slam dunk with 4:58 left, and when Sensabaugh picked up his second foul with 4:25 remaining the Hawkeyes had a chance to close with momentum. Instead, Isaac Likekele and Sueing forced Murray into a turnover, Sueing hit a jumper of his own and the Buckeyes were able to take the lead into the locker room.
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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Roddy Gayle, Ohio State knock off Iowa in Big Ten Tournament