COLUMBUS — Ohio State stormed back from a 15-point deficit in the second half to stun the top-ranked Duke Blue Devils 71-66 in front of a raucous and jam-packed crowd in the Schottenstein Center on Tuesday evening.
Zed Key’s career-high 20 points paced Ohio State, and Duke was held scoreless over the final four minutes of the second half as the relentless Buckeyes finally ran down the vaunted Blue Devils in the final minutes.
A late pair of free throws from E.J. Liddell gave Ohio State its first lead since the early stages of the first half, and his jumper with 15 seconds remaining in the game increased their lead to 69-66. Ohio State guard Cedric Russell grabbed the rebound off of highly-touted freshman forward Paolo Banchero’s three-point attempt, and after being fouled, calmly made two free throws to seal Ohio State’s second win over a number one-ranked team under head coach Chris Holtmann.
Following the free throws, thousands of students and fans spilled onto the floor to celebrate and cap off a memorable night in Value City Arena.
“I thought our guys showed a lot of resiliency, bottom line,” Holtmann said after the game. “Our ability to be resilient, to keep coming to try to win the next possession was really imporant. And at the end, our players just made enough plays. I was really proud of their resiliency.”
Holtmann said of the atmosphere inside Value City Arena, “Our students, our fans were phenomenal … We needed all of you tonight, and we need you back the next time we play.”
He added, “I hope the students enjoy it well into the morning. Safely, but well into the morning.”
To say the win seemed improbable for large stretches of the game would have been an understatement as a mistake-prone Ohio State couldn’t stay out of its own way throughout most of the first half. After taking a 13-7 lead seven minutes into the game, familiar issues began to plague the Buckeyes once more as Duke began to take full control of the game.
Nine first-half turnovers and a 3-10 effort from the free throw line by Ohio State contributed heavily to Duke’s 43-30 halftime lead. Banchero, who is projected by many to be the top pick in next year’s NBA Draft, shook off a slow start to score 10 points in the opening period.
Wendell Moore Jr. also added 10 first-half points for a Duke team that appeared poised to cruise to a win in their first game this season as the top-ranked team in the nation.
With Liddell held in check by a Duke defense determined not to let the All-American candidate beat them, Key’s nine points were one of the few bright spots in an otherwise forgetful first half for Ohio State.
Duke stretched its lead to 15 points on several occassions early in the second half. Moore’s jumper with 18:21 remaining in the game had Duke in front 49-34 before Ohio State began to crawl back into contention.
Justin Ahrens’ three-pointer in transition touched every part of the rim before finally falling, cutting the Duke lead to just six points at 53-47 and sending a charge through the arena as the game approached the 12-minute mark.
The Duke lead quickly balloned back to double figures a few possessions later, and a made three-pointer by Trevor Keels had the Blue Devils out in front 62-51 with 7:18.
With time running out on Ohio State’s chances to get back into the game, a prolonged cold spell by the Duke offense presented just the opportunity the Buckeyes needed to begin their run.
A basket by Key had Ohio State within six points at 63-57 with 5:35 to play, but Moore answered right back with a basket of his own to put Duke ahead by eight points with 5:18 remaining.
That would be the last made field goal Duke would have, however, as the misses began to pile up along with the Ohio State momentum.
Jamari Wheeler’s layup had Ohio State within five as the clock ticked towards three minutes remaining, and Russell’s three-pointer sent the Buckeye faithful into a frenzy as Ohio State drew to within a basket with 2:32 to play.
Following a stop on the ensuing possession, Russell was fouled and made one of two free throws, and Liddell followed that up with a pair of makes to give Ohio State just its second lead of the game. The lead wouldn’t be relinquished over the final minute as Liddell’s jumper put the finishing touches on the upset and Duke’s first loss of the season.
Asked how his team was able to close out the game, Key pointed to Ohio State’s defensive effort down the stretch that proved to be the difference.
“We just had to get stops on defense,” Key said. “They were getting a lot of transition points, so we just had to tighten up our defense and get stops. We did that, and we got the (win). We pulled it out.”
Russell added, “It was really just taking one possession at a time, not really thinking about what’s up on the scoreboard. Just coming out and getting one stop and then, on the offensive end, scoring the ball. It was just taking it one play at a time and winning every possession.”
With the win, Ohio State improves to 5-2 on the season. The Buckeyes return to action on Sunday when they travel to Penn State to temporarily open Big Ten play. Tip off for the game is set for 7:30 p.m.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.