PORTLAND, Oregon – For about 14 minutes, Ohio State did a great job of avoiding the type of exposure that its coach had worried about.
In the opening day of the PK80 Invitational inside Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum, the Buckeyes were going toe-to-toe with No. 17 Gonzaga, last year’s national runner-up. But shortly after the midway point of the first half, the Bulldogs (4-0) flexed their muscles and pulled away for a convincing, 86-59 win.
With the loss, Ohio State (4-1) will face Stanford on Friday at 9 p.m. Eastern at the Moda Center on ESPN2.
“More than anything I want to see how we respond to moments like this against a good team,” coach Chris Holtmann said. “I think we anticipated that it was going to be a road environment, but I didn’t anticipate that they would travel quite like they did. I think the fact that we got to play in some ways a true road game tonight, that’s good for our guys at this point. I just want to see what our response is going to be moving forward.”
Befitting the situation, the Buckeyes came out energetic and trading blows with the Bulldogs. Freshman Musa Jallow scored five of Ohio State’s first seven points, and the Buckeyes led as late as 25-24 with 10:45 to play when Jallow splashed another three, but Gonzaga played the part of a grizzled team and didn’t blink.
Josh Perkins answered Jallow’s three with one of his own, his fourth on as many attempts, and Gonzaga reclaimed a lead it wouldn’t give up thanks in part to a brutal stretch to close the half for the Buckeyes. Kaleb Wesson hit a pair of free throws with 7:48 remaining to pull within two points at 33-31, but Ohio State would not score again for the rest of the half.
“The biggest thing was energy,” junior guard C.J. Jackson told The Dispatch. “We played with energy. We played together and that dwindled down as the game went on. We know we’ve got to play 40 minutes. We’re not as deep as some of the other teams, so we know we can’t have lapses like we did tonight.”
Against a Gonzaga zone filled with players bigger, faster and stronger than the likes of which the Buckeyes have seen this year, the outside shots – Ohio State opened the game 5 for 7 from three – stopped falling and attempts to penetrate resulted in turnovers. The Buckeyes closed the half by missing their final nine shots and committing six turnovers while Gonzaga weathered its own stretch of five straight scoreless possessions to build a 44-31 halftime lead, giving a decidedly pro-Zags crowd plenty to cheer about.
To that point, nine Ohio State turnovers had led to 11 Gonzaga points and leading scorers Jae’Sean Tate and Keita Bates-Diop had a combined five points. Then when Gonzaga opened the second half with an 8-2 run that pushed its lead to 52-33, the result was never really in question. Ohio State got no closer than 14 points the rest of the way.
Wesson was making the first start of his career in relief of sophomore Micah Potter. About an hour before tip, Ohio State announced that he would miss the game with a left ankle injury suffered late in Sunday’s home win against Northeastern. Potter had started all four games this season and was averaging 8.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.
As a clear focal point of Gonzaga’s defensive planning, Bates-Diop struggled to get untracked all game and finished with a season-low seven points but had 10 rebounds.
“He could be more aggressive, but they were locked into him pretty clearly,” Holtmann said. “I think he was a major focal point for them, so hopefully we can do some things to get him some more looks. Keita had 10 rebounds. I’m going to challenge him to get better a little bit defensively in some areas but I think he was obviously a focal point because of how well he’s played.”
Senior Jae’Sean Tate and Jackson each had 12 points to lead the Buckeyes, who committed 15 turnovers that Gonzaga turned into 17 points. Ohio State missed 12 of its final 13 three-point attempts and overall shot 34.5 percent (19 for 55) for the game.