BASKETBALL

Ohio State basketball beats in-state foe Cincinnati Bearcats in Maui

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch

LAHAINA, Hawaii – Nestled into the mountainside that overlooks the Pacific Ocean, the Lahaina Civic Center’s location comes with a gorgeous view of the waves stretching toward the horizon.

Tuesday afternoon, the undulating hands of an Ohio State cheering section made their own waves behind the Buckeyes bench. In an island battle between Ohio State and Cincinnati five time zones and thousands of miles from home, third-year center Zed Key had just dunked on the Bearcats to give his team a 14-point lead less than two minutes into the second half.

As he does, Key raised the roof with hands outstretched above his head as he jogged back down the court. To his left, the Buckeyes fans followed suit, rows of scarlet-and-gray-clad tourists basking in the moment at the Maui Invitational.

It was one of many celebrations for the Buckeyes, who bounced back from an 88-77 loss to No. 17 San Diego State in Monday’s tournament opener and handed their in-state foe a decisive, 81-53 out-of-state loss.

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Zed Key led the Buckeyes with 19 points and had eight rebounds, Sensabaugh scored 17 points, freshman Bruce Thornton had a career-high 15 points and Sueing added 11 and six rebounds in his second game back in his home state.

"It was a little weird to fly out to Hawaii and play them," Key said. "They're an hour and a half down the road. It’s just another game, another team in front of us. We’re trying to get to our goal."

Ohio State will play Texas Tech in the fifth-place game that will tip Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. Eastern on ESPN2.

It was a barrage of body blows that the Buckeyes (4-1) used to build their lead against the Bearcats (3-3). Clinging to a 17-16 lead near the midway mark of the first half, Key got things going with a putback that pushed him to 10 points in 12 minutes. Ohio State and Cincinnati then traded buckets for four straight possessions before, after a pair of empty trips down the floor, freshman Brice Sensabaugh hit a turnaround jumper from the left baseline to make it at 28-24 lead.

Here, Ohio State’s defense asserted itself and the offense kept up. The Buckeyes would again score on four straight possessions but this time, they had answers for the Cincinnati offense. Sensabaugh’s jumper was followed by a shot-clock violation that forced Ohio State assistant coach Jack Owens to leap to his feet with both hands in fists to celebrate. When Sueing drew a foul on the right block and hit both free throws to make it a 30-24 lead, the forward stole the ball from Landers Nolley II at the other end.

Now ahead six, Sensabaugh connected on a 3-pointer that used every bit of the arena’s infamously soft rims to fall through and make it 33-24. And when Cincinnati’s Jeremiah Davenport missed a contested jumper, Key bullied his way through two Bearcats to secure the rebound and lead to a possession where he scored, again, to give Ohio State a 35-24 lead.

Sensabaugh closed the half with a 3-pointer that swished through the net as time expired, giving Ohio State a 38-27 halftime lead, and it would only climb from there. Cincinnati led for only 4:32.

"I thought it was going to be a really important game for us and was proud of our guys’ effort," coach Chris Holtmann said. "They responded. We gave as good a defensive effort as we’ve had all year."

After going 17 for 34 from 3 against Arizona, Cincinnati was just 4 for 18 against the Buckeyes. Nolley, who had 33 points on 9 of 14 shooting from 3 in that game, was harassed by Likekele all game and finished with 2 points on 1 of 6 shooting.

Although it was the freshman who ended the half strong, Ohio State’s veterans got things rolling early. The Buckeyes led 13-10 when Cincinnati took a timeout at the 14:46 mark and had gotten all of their points from Key (eight) and Sueing (five) and all of their eight individual rebounds from Sueing (four), Key and Isaac Likekele (two apiece).

Ohio State has now won five straight matchups against Cincinnati dating back to the 1962 national championship game. The teams last played each other in a home-and-home series to open the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons.

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy

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