23rd Ranked Florida Shocks Ohio State at the Buzzer

Ohio State blew a 10 point second half lead, falling at the buzzer as a long three fell just before the horn as the Gators came away with a 71-68 win in the championship of the Fort Myers Tipoff Classic.  With the loss, Ohio State falls to 4-2 and the Gators move to 5-0 with the win. Continuing to play short handed, Ohio State was the better team for the majority of the game, but 18 turnovers and 7 missed free throws in 20 attempts ultimately doomed the Buckeyes in this game. E.J. Liddell led Ohio State with 23, while Kyle Young added 11 points and 6 rebounds before fouling out with over 9 minutes to play. 

It was all Buckeyes in the first 5 minutes, jumping out to an 11-4 lead at the first media timeout, thanks to 4 each from E.J. Liddell and Joey Brunk and a Justin Ahrens triple from the top capped the early run as Ohio State was the aggressor at the outset. A pair of Florida free throws trimmed the lead briefly before a Liddell 17 footer from the elbow dropped putting the Buckeyes back up 7.  Four straight Gator points cut the lead to 3 at the under 12 media timeout as the Gator defense had picked up the intensity forcing Ohio State scoreless for nearly three minutes. Another Gator bucket cut the Buckeye lead to just one, but a Liddell free throw ended the five minute plus scoring drought and put Ohio State up two. A Gator free throw followed by a Liddell freebie kept the lead at two. A Liddell 5 foot runner increased the Buckeye lead to two and after a ticky tack foul call on Liddell on the other end, the teams hit the under 8 timeout with the Buckeyes leading the Gators 17-15 as both teams were struggling with offensive fluidity due to very good half court defense. Four straight Gator points due in large part to three Buckeye turnovers, tied the game and forced the Buckeyes to take a timeout with 6:18 to go in the half and the game tied. Another Buckeye turnover led to a transition bucket by the Gators giving them their first lead. A Gator triple increased the run to 9-0 putting Florida up five. Young put the ball on the deck from the top and got to the rim for a score while being fouled to end the run. Young dropped in the ensuing free throw completing the old-fashioned three point play and cutting the Gator lead to two. Young hit a half hook in the middle of the lane to tie it, but a Gator runner on the baseline pushed Florida back in front. Cedric Russell surged the Buckeyes back in front, burying a triple from the left wing and following a Florida turnover, the final media timeout of the half hit with Ohio State leading 25-24 and on a 8-2 run. Liddell split a pair of free throws and following a Gator turnover, Liddell scored off the glass on the left baseline. The Buckeye run continued as Malaki Branham bagged a pair of free throws putting the Buckeyes up six. The Gators scored with a tip dunk just before the horn and at the half, Ohio State led Florida 30-26. Neither team shot the basketball well in the first half with Florida shooting just 31% and 1 of 9 from long, while Ohio State shot it better, hitting 47.8% but just 2 of 11 from deep.  The Buckeyes led despite 10 turnovers, allowing the Gators 9 points off those turnovers.  E.J. Liddell led Ohio State with a game high 13 in the first 20 minutes. 

Florida opened the second half scoring with a pair of free throws but breaking a 1-2-2 zone press, Liddell at the top found Young streaking along the baseline for a dunk to put Ohio State back up four. Florida split a pair of free throws on the other end to cut the lead to three and following an Ohio State offensive foul, another Gator bucket cut the lead to 1. The lead went back to three when a Young reverse pivot and short jumper dropped. The Gators answered with a dribble drive and dunk, but back came Ohio State. Jamari Wheeler put the ball on the deck from the left wing and got to the rim for a score and on the ensuing possession, Wheeler picked the pocket of the Gator guard and scored in transition to put Ohio State up five. After a Florida miss, Meechie Johnson put the ball on the floor from the right wing and got to the rim and scored with the reverse lay-in.  After a Florida turnover, the game hit the under 16 media timeout with Ohio State on a 6-0 run and now leading 40-33. The Gators ended the run, hitting a triple to cut the lead to four, but Ahrens buried a three from the left corner to answer. Zed Key hit a short hook from the left block and after a loose ball scramble led to a Key dunk, Florida called timeout with Ohio State on top 47-37 and 12:58 left to play. The Gators cut the lead to seven, completing an old fashioned three point play and after a Buckeye turnover led to a Gator run out and dunk, the lead stood at just five. Two more Buckeye turnovers and a foul led to the under 12 minute media timeout as suddenly the momentum had shifted in favor of Florida as they were heading to the stripe, trailing Ohio State by just five 47-42. The Gators split the free throws to cut the lead to four, but an offensive rebound and a score cut the lead to just two as the Gators had scored 8 straight. Key ended the run, hitting a short jumper mid paint and a Young offensive rebound and put back put the Buckeyes back up six, but with 9:03 left, Kyle Young picked up his fifth and final foul, finishing with 11 points and in the aftermath, the foul disparity caught the ire of Chris Holtmann and he picked up a technical foul as Florida to that point had been called for just three fouls compared to 11 for the Buckeyes. All four free throws fell and the lead was cut to two. Liddell was fouled on the dribble drive and E.J. bagged both free throws to bump the lead back to four. Florida cut the lead to a pair with a lay up but Wheeler drilled a three from the left wing and at the under 8 media timeout, Ohio State led Florida 56-51. Jimmy Sotos split a pair of free throws to increase the lead to six, but a Florida runner cut the lead back to four. Liddell split a pair of free throws as Ohio State clung to a five point lead as Ohio State was struggling at the stripe. The Gators split a pair as well and with 6:25 to go, Ohio State was up four and after a Buckeye miss, Florida got free at the block for a score to cut the lead to just two. Liddell drilled a three from the head of the key and after a Liddell block led to a break out, Branham scored at the rim and suddenly Ohio State was up seven. Florida wasn’t going away, however, as a long three dropped from the right point and at the final media timeout of the game, Ohio State led 63-59 but Florida was due to hit the free throw line to attempt a pair. They both fell and it was back to a two point Buckeye lead with under four minutes to play. After a Buckeye turnover, Florida got to the rim for a score to tie the score with 3:31 on the game clock as Florida was on a 7-0 run. Liddell ended the run scoring from the right block, but a pair of Gator free throws re-tied the game and the Gators broke the tie with another free throw and Ohio State took a timeout with 2:11 to go and Florida now leading 66-65. The Buckeyes regained the lead when Liddell hit a pair of free throws with now under 2 minutes to play. After solid half court defense forced an off-balance Florida shot, Ohio State got the ball in the front court and after Ahrens missed a three, Wheeler came up with a huge offensive rebound and Ohio State called timeout with 1 minute left in the game. Key was fouled, shooting from the right block and he split the pair giving Ohio State a two point lead. The Gators scored at the rim to tie it and aftera Liddell miss, a race down the floor and a long three at the horn dropped and Florida escaped with the win. 

Ohio State was the better team for the majority of the game, defended well for the most part and despite some one-sided officiating, they were in position to get the win late. The bottom line though is they need to take better care of the ball to win close games. They are still learning to play without Justice Sueing, who they desperately need to compete at a high level and the young backcourt still has to understand how to value the basketball and that every possession matters. They will learn a lot from this game but there’s no question this one stings. What looked like a sure win, turned quickly late as Florida took advantage of missed free throws and too many miscues from Ohio State. There is certainly a lot of growing to do and they will be a much different team in March than they are right now, but they have been the better team in every game they’ve played so far, the record just doesn’t show it. The ceiling is high once healthy, but right now, they just need to learn and grow as a group and when Sueing, Towns and Brown return, they will be that much better. 

Ohio State will head back to Columbus to play host to Duke in the ACC/Big Ten challenge on Tuesday night at 9:30 pm in a game airing on ESPN. 

-Jason Harris 

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