BOISE, Idaho — A 10-point lead had disappeared in a flash, and Ohio State suddenly needed something to stave off the upset bid.
South Dakota State’s fans were roaring inside Taco Bell Arena when the call from Buckeyes assistant coach Ryan Pedon came in. It was called “splash” and drawn up for fifth-year senior Kam Williams, playing his best offensive game of the season.
And befitting its name, Williams caught the feed from Andre Wesson, turned and made a three-pointer from the right wing while being fouled to break a tie with 1:36 to play.
He hit the free throw, and then three free throws on the next possession for a personal 7-0 run that gave the Buckeyes an 81-73 win Thursday over the Jackrabbits and moved them into a second-round game Saturday against Gonzaga in the NCAA West Regional.
“You’ve got to want to shoot the ball,” Williams said inside Ohio State’s locker room. “When coach calls a play for you, you’ve got to want to have it and execute it, to do your job.”
Williams finished with a season-high 22 points, two fewer than leading scorer Keita Bates-Diop and two more than point guard C.J. Jackson. Together, the trio accounted for 81.5 percent of Ohio State’s scoring and helped answer South Dakota State star Mike Daum’s 27 points.
Facing a Jackrabbits team intent on packing the lane and daring the Buckeyes (25-8) to shoot from deep, they obliged at a historic rate. Ohio State shot a program-record 40 three-pointers and, according to ESPN, became the first team to attempt 40 three-pointers in an NCAA Tournament game since Drake shot 42 against Western Kentucky in 2008.
That OSU made only 12 didn’t matter.
“We’ll never do that again, I doubt,” said coach Chris Holtmann, who added that he was maybe unhappy with eight to 10 of them. “I don’t know that we’ll ever play another team that’s daring you to shoot.”
After taking control with a 16-0 run spanning much of the second half, Ohio State led 70-60 with 4:42 to play when — what else? — a banked-in three-pointer from Brandon Key ignited a 10-0 run to knot the score leading into Williams’ theatrics.
“Coach preached that we can’t get out-toughed,” Jackson said. “That’s what we live by, no matter who we play, no matter if it’s in practice, no matter what it is. We have to be the tougher team. We knew they were going to make runs.”
The crowd that had just seen fourth-seeded Gonzaga hold off a challenge from No. 13 UNC Greensboro rallied behind the Jackrabbits (28-7), with Ohio State fans mostly confined to a section behind the team’s bench. Clustered right behind the bench was roughly a half-dozen Michigan fans with a sign: “Michigan fans 4 South Dakota State.”
The Buckeyes dealt with an injury-riddled first-half sequence. With Ohio State ahead 38-32, Andre Wesson jumped on a pump-fake, landed awkwardly and had to be helped to the bench. He sought treatment on his right knee but returned before the close of the half and said he will be fine for Saturday’s game.
Two possessions later, Williams went down with a left ankle injury in front of the Ohio State bench and had to come out of the game.
With the win, Ohio State draws a rematch against a Gonzaga team that won by 27 points on Nov. 23 in the PK80 Invitational in Portland, Oregon.
“We’ve only lost to a couple teams this year, and they’re one of them,” Jackson said. “Being able to play a team that you lost to before is definitely exciting.”
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