Meechie Johnson's 3-pointer leads Ohio State past Seton Hall in thriller

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch
Seton Hall Pirates guard Jared Rhoden (14) blocks the shot from Ohio State Buckeyes forward E.J. Liddell (32) during the first half at Suncoast Credit Union Arena.

FORT MYERS, Fla. – On multiple occasions, the roof was raised. At one point, the lights went out.

In the end, Meechie Johnson was the difference. After his turnover led to a game-tying basket in the final seconds, the second-year Ohio State guard buried a 3-pointer with 2.3 to play that lifted the Buckeyes (4-1) past No. 21 Seton Hall (3-1) in the Fort Myers Tip-Off Monday night.

It came after E.J. Liddell missed a 3-pointer, grabbed his own rebound and fired it back toward midcourt toward Johnson, who couldn't keep possession. It led to a straight-line layup for Jamir Harris, but Johnson would get the last laugh in a 79-76 win.

"I was just thinking, get a score for the team," Johnson said. "Coach called a play, seemed like it was for me. It was a gutsy shot. It went in and teammates had confidence in me and the coaches did. It was a great moment. "

After building a double-digit lead during the first half and holding serve for a while, Ohio State’s lead dwindled as the whistles picked up. Ahead 63-53 with 9:49 left, E.J. Liddell was called for a foul on a Bryce Aiken drive. He hit the second of two free throws, and after Ohio State turned it over Seton Hall got a pair of free throws from Jared Rhoden to pull within 63-56.

One possession later, Jamari Wheeler seemed to force Bryce Aiken into a travel but was instead called for his fourth foul to give Aiken a 3-point play. Wheeler subbed out and had to be held back from possibly picking up a technical foul. The Buckeyes would pick one up seconds later, though after a no-call as Liddell was bumped on a jumper and Chris Holtmann erupted. Aiken hit the free throws, and it was down to a 63-61 lead.

"They had their run, got a lot of foul calls that I didn’t agree with or anybody on Ohio State’s sideline agreed with, but we just kept fighting," Liddell said. "Threw the next punch. Basketball is a game of runs. We just kept punching."

It injected some serious energy into Suncoast Credit Union Arena, which had sold every seat in the 3,500-capacity home of Florida SouthWestern State College.

Liddell finished with 28 points, raising the roof after one dunk. Rhoden had 29. Johnson had 8, including the three that counted the most.

"I thought he moved around, he was aggressive, he attacked late, got to his spots late, got to the foul line," Ohio State coach Holtmann said. "He has played like a guy who’s earned the right to play really well."

Unlike in their last game, the Buckeyes came out hot. When Zed Key connected on a left-handed hook shot only 5:44 into the game, it pushed Ohio State’s point total to 14 and tied the game. Against Xavier, it took Ohio State 11:12 to hit the 14-point mark, and the Buckeyes would keep it rolling offensively as the half progressed.

With Seton Hall ahead by a game-high five points at 24-19 with 9:04 to play in the half, the Buckeyes got things rolling after a bizarre sequence temporarily halted play. Seton Hall’s Myles Cale stole a Jimmy Sotos pass, pushed it up the court and scored on an unusual layup through traffic to set that score but hit the deck and couldn’t get up.

With the Buckeyes pushing the ball upcourt against a man advantage, second-year Ohio State guard Meechie Johnson was just about to launch a 3-pointer as the whistles blew and the primary lighting inside the arena suddenly shut off. Cale was helped off the court as only seven auxiliary lights half-illuminated the court, Johnson’s basket was waived off and everyone generally stood around for about seven minutes until full power was restored and the game could resume.

It did with 8:59 to play and Ohio State ball with 28 seconds on the shot clock, and the Buckeyes would settle in from there. It started with a turnaround jumper from E.J. Liddell, who then twice blocked 7-2 Seton Hall center Ike Obiagu at the other end of the court, hustled back on offense and buried a 3-pointer from straight on to tie the game at 24. Liddell pumped his right arm as he crossed back across halfcourt, and after Kyle Young hit a pair of free throws Liddell followed suit for a 9-0 run to put Ohio State ahead 28-24 with 6:46 left in the half.

The Buckeyes continued to add to the lead, and when lightly used reserve guard Jimmy Sotos hit only his second 3-pointer of the season with 3:12 to play it pushed the lead to 38-28, capped a 19-4 run and forced Seton Hall to call timeout.

At the half, Ohio State led 40-35 thanks to 16 points from Liddell and 11 from Justin Ahrens, who was perfect on three 3-point attempts during the half.

The Buckeyes were without second-year guard Gene Brown III, who did not make the trip while going through concussion protocols after being injured at Xavier. Sixth-year graduate transfer center Joey Brunk made his first start of the season, replacing the 6-8 Key to battle with Obiagu. After his fall, Cale did not return with what was described as a lower-body injury.

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