On day Seth Towns debuts, freshmen come up big as Ohio State beats UCLA

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State's Justice Sueing (14) drives past UCLA's Jaime Jaquez Jr. in the second half on Saturday in Cleveland.

CLEVELAND – When the game began, Ohio State got a return. Then, in the final minutes of the second half, it got a debut.

By the end, it got a bounce-back win.

E.J. Liddell returned after missing two games with mononucleosis, Seth Towns played his first game in more than a thousand days and No. 20 Ohio State came from behind to fend off UCLA 77-70 in the nightcap of the CBS Sports Classic at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

The Buckeyes (6-1) trailed by as many as six on two second-half occasions and were within a possession for most of the half before finally taking a lead during the final seven minutes. A tough, driving layup by Duane Washington Jr. banked high off the glass to tie the game at 61 with 6:53 to play, but it was freshman Gene Brown who got the Buckeyes – and their bench – going.

Tied at 63 a moment later, freshman Zed Key blocked UCLA’s Jalen Hill in the paint and when Ohio State pushed the ball upcourt Brown fired a three-pointer from the right wing that found only net. UCLA (5-2) responded with a bucket from Chris Smith, but Brown hit another three – his third of the game on as many attempts – to force a timeout with the Ohio State lead up to 69-65 and 4:27 remaining.

It would provide enough breathing room. Washington led the Buckeyes with 14 points, Zed Key had 11, nine of which came during the second half, while battling in the paint and senior guard CJ Walker had 10 points.

Ohio State is now 4-3 all-time in the event, which also features North Carolina and Kentucky. The Buckeyes have also won three straight in the event and now are even in their all-time series with UCLA at six wins apiece.

For Towns, a Harvard graduate transfer and Northland product, it was a day 1,014 days in the making. Towns’ last appearance in a game came back on March 11, 2018, when he scored 13 points in a loss to Penn in the Ivy League tournament. Since then, it’s been a steady stream of setbacks and hard work. Most recently, Towns underwent surgery on his right knee last January before joining his hometown team during the spring.

He has been working his way back into practice action, and coach Chris Holtmann has described him as day-to-day for the last few weeks.

UCLA had taken a 35-34 lead with 2:58 to play in the first half when Holtmann turned to his bench and yelled, “Seth!” The graduate transfer, who had been running sprints along the baseline after timeouts and taken off his warmup pants, popped up and headed to the scorers’ table to make his debut.

That came 11 seconds later, when he subbed in for Musa Jallow. Two possessions in, he attempted his first shot in an Ohio State uniform – a three-pointer – but missed. He came out of the game with 28 seconds left when the Buckeyes put in an all-defensive lineup for UCLA’s final possession and forced a missed shot, allowing Ohio State to take a 39-38 lead into the locker room.

Both teams came out hot. The Buckeyes were 15 for 27 (55.6%) from the floor during the first half, just barely better than the Bruins (13 for 27, 48.1%), who went 10 for 14 from the line compared to 4 of 5 for the Buckeyes. Eight Ohio State players had between 2-7 points, with Liddell leading the team at seven.

Liddell’s game would be marred by foul trouble. He checked back in with four fouls and 9:21 to play, and after hitting a mid-range jumper he picked up his fifth foul with 7:21 to play while battling for an offensive rebound following a missed Kyle Young three-pointer. He finished with nine points and three rebounds.

Young missed a few minutes during the second half after hitting his chin on the head of a UCLA player but would return after receiving medical attention from the staff and briefly returning to the locker room.