COLUMBUS — Tanner Holden played 15 minutes on Thursday without having much of an impact, but he only needed one second to deliver the play of the game and his defining moment since transferring to Columbus.
With his team trailing by two with five seconds to play, Holden’s three-pointer at the buzzer lifted No. 25 Ohio State to a 67-66 win over Rutgers on Thursday in its opening game of Big Ten play.
The basket was the only field goal of the game for Holden, who has struggled to find his scoring touch in the early going, but it’s one that will be remembered for some time in and around the Ohio State program.
Zed Key led all scorers with 22 points, and he also added a game-high 14 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season. Freshman Brice Sensabaugh, making his first collegiate start in the absence of Isaac Likekele, added 13 points.
Clifford Omoruyi scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half, and he added eight rebounds and two blocks to nearly secure Rutgers’ second consecutive win of conference play.
Rutgers started the game red-hot from three, connecting on three of its first four attempts as part of a 9-0 run jump out to an early 11-5 lead.
After a cold shooting start, Ohio State answered quickly with a sizable run of its own, beginning with a pair of threes from Sensabaugh and Sean McNeil to tie the game at 11-11. The lead grew to 19-11 on Key’s jump hook, already his fourth made field goal of the game, before a three from Rutgers’ Dean Reiber finally ended Ohio State’s 14-0 run heading into the second media timeout.
Key remained the catalyst of the offense late in the first half, scoring or assisting on three consecutive possessions to maintain an eight-point lead. Sensabaugh’s three as the shot clock expired gave Ohio State its largest lead of the half at 31-20 with four minutes remaining in the half, and Ohio State appeared poised to pull away heading into the break.
Rutgers had other ideas, however, and a 9-0 run over the final three minutes of the half cut the Ohio State lead to just 31-29 as the two teams entered their respective locker rooms.
Key finished the half with 15 points and eight rebounds, and he added two assists to lead Ohio State. As a team, Ohio State shot 43% from the field in the opening 2o minutes, including a 4-9 effort from three.
Senior guard Cam Spencer’s nine points off the bench paced Rutgers, which shot 50% from the field to remain within a basket heading into the second half.
Rutgers took its first lead since the early stages of the first half seven minutes into the second half on a transition dunk by Aundre Hyatt as part of a 6-0 run and a nearly three-minute scoring drought by Ohio State.
Bruce Thornton answered with a three on the ensuing possession to recapture the lead for Ohio State, and the two teams traded jabs midway through the second half as the lead changed hands multiple times with the clock ticking under seven minutes.
A midrange jumper by Derek Simpson pushed Rutgers ahead 55-53 with 6:38 remaining, but Ohio State answered right back with Justice Sueing’s three as the back-and-forth affair continued down the stretch.
Turnovers began to pile up for Ohio State down the stretch, however, and it appeared the giveaways would cost Ohio State its first home loss of the season. Rutgers led by two as the game entered the final minute, and after Thornton missed on the back end of a pair of free throws, Paul Mulcahy’s two free throws pushed Ohio State to the brink.
After Rutgers elected to foul and send Ohio State back to the line, preventing any opportunity for Ohio State to get off a potential game-tying three, Thornton knocked down both free throws to cut the lead to 65-64 with five seconds left.
Caleb McConnell was immediately fouled by Ohio State with five seconds remaining, sending him to the line with an opportunity to extend Rutgers’ lead back to three. Instead, McConnell left the door open for a stunning Ohio State triumph, missing the second free throw and keeping the lead at two.
Sensabaugh grabbed the rebound and quickly pushed the ball up the floor to Thornton, whose balancing act along the sideline near midcourt allowed him to keep the play alive and find an open Holden in front of the Ohio State bench.
The ball left Holden’s hand just as the clock expired, and the shot was pure, sending the Ohio State bench spilling onto the floor and the Schottenstein Center into a frenzy while a stunned Rutgers team looked on in disbelief.
Holden’s shot was reviewed by the officiating crew, creating a momentary lull in the celebration, but the basket was confirmed and the celebration ensured for Ohio State.
With the win, Ohio State improves to 7-2 on the season and 1-0 in conference play. They will have more than a week off before heading to New York City to take on North Carolina in the CBS Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, Dec. 17. Tip-off for the game is set for 3 p.m
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.