CHICAGO — Patience has been a hallmark of C.J. Jackson’s career. Whether it was playing a year at a junior college while waiting for the right fit with a Division I school or sitting behind JaQuan Lyle before outplaying him for the starting point guard spot, the Ohio State senior has a clear history of perseverance.
He showed it again Saturday in the CBS Sports Classic at the United Center. Jackson shook off back-to-back early turnovers and poor shooting in the first half against UCLA to score 18 of his game-high 22 points in the final 9:06 and help the No. 15 Buckeyes to an 80-66 victory against the free-falling Bruins. UCLA has lost three straight nonconference games under coach Steve Alford for the first time in four years.
“The first half, I was struggling with my turnovers and a couple of defensive assignments I missed, so going into the second half I had to change my mindset and it started with defense,” Jackson said. “Once I focused on defense more, I was able to knock down a couple of shots.”
To get to that point, Ohio State (11-1) had to solve UCLA’s zone defense and eventually took control of a game the Bruins (7-5) seemed to be trying to give away. The Buckeyes held only a 33-30 lead at halftime despite 12 first-half turnovers from the Bruins. Eleven of them came in the final 12:03 of the half, but Ohio State’s offense simultaneously stagnated.
When UCLA’s Jules Bernard turned it over to start that closing stretch, the Bruins held an 18-15 lead. They would turn it over five more times in the next 4:27, but the Buckeyes missed seven of eight shots during that span and still trailed 18-17.
They didn’t take the lead until Andre Wesson found his brother Kaleb on the left block for a layup with 5:03 remaining to go up 23-21. On the final possession of the half, Ohio State’s Luther Muhammad hounded Jaylen Hands as he dribbled out the final seconds and forced an off-balance shot at the rim. Muhammad’s teammates embraced him as they sprinted off the court.
Andre Wesson’s three-pointer with 16:33 left capped a 10-4 run to open the second half, pushing the Buckeyes’ lead to nine. In the final 17:57 of the game, UCLA never had the ball with a chance to take the lead.
“Their length bothered us,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. “We drove them a little bit more in the zone and posted it and moved it a little quicker, which was instrumental for us.”
Then the Buckeyes started wearing down the Bruins behind Kaleb Wesson, who had his second double-double with 15 points and a career-high 12 rebounds.
“That’s what we tried to do for 40 minutes, make it a tough, grind-it-out game,” Wesson said. “Occupying them, getting into their legs, trying to wear them out was a big key.”
Against the zone, Keyshawn Woods dished out a career-high 10 assists and did not have a turnover, a line Holtmann said was as significant as any other for the Buckeyes.
The Buckeyes earned their second win in the five-year history of this event and ended a five-game losing streak at the hands of the Bruins, who hadn’t lost to the Buckeyes since Dec. 28, 1961 — a 105-84 Ohio State win in the Holiday Classic in Los Angeles.
The Buckeyes, who will enter Big Ten play after hosting High Point next Saturday, have signature nonconference wins against Cincinnati, Creighton and UCLA — all away from Value City Arena.
“Happy, but not satisfied,” Kaleb Wesson said. “We still have a lot of work to do. We have to work on our defense and staying (intense) for 40 minutes.”