C.J. Jackson collected his own miss and hit a floater to give team Big X a 79-74 win against D2 in the opening round of The Basketball Tournament on Saturday at Nationwide Arena.
"Nick had a mismatch we favored," Jackson said. "They started doubling and the guys told me to be more aggressive, especially going down the stretch. Towards the end I wanted to stay aggressive."
The first game of the tournament, which was conducted inside a quarantine bubble and played in front of no fans, saw No. 9 seed Big X fall behind by double digits during the first half before turning to Michigan State product and Gahanna native Nick Ward during the third quarter to help turn the tide.
After trailing by as many as 15 points, Big X fed the ball to Ward early and often to open the second half and he responded. After being held to three points on 1 of 5 shooting during the first half, Ward scored 11 points to help Big X finally dig in against upset-minded D2. The lowest-seeded team in the tournament D2 was added when another team, Jackson Underdogs, had a player test positive for coronavirus and was sent home.
Ward’s production helped settle Big X, but it still needed a fourth-quarter comeback in order to advance. His dunk with 4:43 to play gave his team a 70-69 lead and set up the Elam Ending. Under TBT’s rules, the first stoppage of play with four minutes remaining sets the target score for the winning team. Eight points are added to the score of the team in the lead, and the first team to reach that mark wins.
Jackson opened the scoring with a deep jumper through contact to pull Big X within six points of the win, bookmarking the period for Big X.
Ward led Big X with 18 points, while fellow Gahanna alumnus Javon Bess added 11. Jackson, an Ohio State product, had seven points and player-coach Andrew Dakich had three. D2’s Kevin Capers led all scorers with 25 points.
"It was more of exploiting the matchup," Ward said. "The whole team did a great job of feeding me the ball."
"It was weird subbing myself in, I’m not gonna lie," Dakich said. "It took some self-awareness on my part."
With the win, Big X will face Dayton alumni team Red Scare on Wednesday at 2 p.m. on ESPN.
Ward scored the first point of the tournament on a free throw 18 seconds into the game, but the lead was short-lived. D2 answered with a three-pointer by Demario Mayfield and built a 19-6 lead through the first seven minutes as Big X combined to miss 13 of its first 15 shots. The only made field goals came from Bess, who hit his first two shots.
An Andrew Dakich three-pointer pulled Big X within 10 points, but D2 would push its lead as high as 15 points a little more than a minute into the second quarter before Big X made its first run. Wisconsin product Trevon Hughes hit a jumper to pull within 28-15, starting a 10-0 run that made it a 28-23 D2 lead when Kellen Dunham hit a three-pointer with 3:56 left in the half.
D2 answered that with a 7-0 run to push its lead back to 12 points, and it took a 36-30 lead into an atypical break. At the half, neither team left the bench area as D2’s coach, Grant Leonard, was interviewed from a distance by sideline reporter Jen Hale. Members of both teams packed their bags before coming to the game, with the losing team immediately being sent home.
The start of the game was delayed by roughly 10 minutes as ESPN’s broadcast of a cornhole tournament ran long.
Big X was without a pair of Buckeyes who were forced to sit out due to positive coronavirus tests in Jae’Sean Tate and Keyshawn Woods. Dakich said Tate’s status for the second-round game is still unclear. He was due to undergo another coronavirus test Thursday that, if positive, could result in his availability for the remainder of the tournament.