17th Ranked San Diego State Hands Ohio State Their First Loss

#17 San Diego State took advantage of a poor shooting first half by Ohio State and fended off an Ohio State run as the Buckeyes closed to as close as 4 before falling to the Aztecs 88-77 in the Maui Classic. Sean McNeil scored 20 of his 22 in the second half getting Ohio State within striking distance but it just wasn’t to be on this night. When Ohio State went on a run, San Diego State to their credit, answered and that’s what a veteran team does. In addition to McNeil, Brice Sensabaugh hit the double-figure mark, adding 17 and Bruce Thornton chipped in 13 as Ohio State fell to 3-1 on the young season.


It was a defensive struggle early as both teams were feeling each other out. The Buckeyes finally got on the board when Sean McNeil found Zed Key on the block who made a strong move to the cup and scored while being fouled. Key knocked down the free throw to complete the old fashioned three point play.  A couple possessions later, off a Buckeye steal, Ohio State got out in transition and Brice Sensabaugh was fouled getting to the rim. He knocked down both and at the under 16 media break, Ohio State was pitching the shutout, leading 5-0. The Aztecs got on the board with a baseline jumper, but McNeil answered with a 15 footer just inside the circle. The Aztecs would proceed to go on a 6–0 run to grab their first lead as Ohio State was still struggling to find offensive rhythm against a very physical San Diego State team and at the under 12 timeout, San Diego State was in front 8-7. All San Diego State out of the timeout, extending the lead to 8, hitting on 3 triples while the lid remained on the bucket on the Buckeye end. The Buckeyes managed a pair of buckets thanks to a Bruce Thornton lob to Felix Okpara and a scoop and score in transition by Thornton and at the under 8 media timeout, the Aztecs led 21-13 and Chris Holtmann was not happy with the way the game was being officiated with the Aztecs getting some benefit of some pushing and shoving. San Diego State increased the lead to 8, splitting a pair of freebies out of the timeout, but a 5-0 Buckeye run, fueled by a pair of Ice Likekele free throws and a Sensabaugh 3 cut the lead to 5. Back came the Aztecs, answering the Buckeye run with a 7-0 run of their own to go up 11 and force the Buckeyes to take a timeout. The Buckeyes trimmed the lead to 9 when Sueing went off the bounce and scored with a short pull up, but at the under 4 media timeout, Ohio State still trailed 29-20. The Aztec lead ballooned to 15 with a 6-0 run before a Roddy Gayle baseline drive stopped the burst. Sensabaugh followed with a pull up jumper from 17’ and San Diego State called timeout with just over a minute to play, leading 35-24. The Aztecs got a jumper to fall after the timeout and with time running out, Sensabaugh went up for a jumper and got fouled. He nailed both to complete the first half scoring with San Diego State leading Ohio State 37-26 at the break. Brice Sensabaugh led Ohio State in the first 20 minutes with 9. The Buckeyes were held to just 30% shooting in the first half, including just 1 of 11 from downtown, while San Diego State shot it at a 40% clip and made 4 of 10 from beyond the arc. The absence of Zed Key was critical in the first half, sitting much of the half in early foul trouble which led San Diego State to claim a slight advantage on the glass, out rebounding the Buckeyes 21-19 in the first 20 minutes. 

A contested three opened the second half scoring for San Diego State to build the biggest lead of the game for the Aztecs. Ohio State answered with a Thornton triple from the left point, but the Aztecs answered with a hoop at the rim. McNeil answered the Aztec bucket with one of his own, getting to the rim off the dribble and scored off the window. Back came San Diego State, completing an old-fashioned three point play in transition, but McNeil drilled a pull up jumper to trim the lead back to 12. A Sueing transition block off the glass created a transition opportunity for Ohio State and McNeil found the bottom from three on the left wing, cutting the lead to 9. The Aztecs scored on the ensuing possession but back came McNeil, hitting a long 2, with a toe on the line to cut the lead back to 9. The Aztecs scored again, getting away with a push off on a step back jumper, drawing the ire of the Buckeye bench, but McNeil again answered with a jumper and Ohio State called timeout with 14:57 to play and San Diego State leading 49-40. A pair of Aztec free throws increased the lead after Key picked up his 3rd personal. On the ensuing possession, Key backed in and scored with a half hook to cut back into the lead. After an Aztec miss, Sensabaugh drilled a triple and as hit made the three, a common foul under the bucket gave the ball back to Ohio State. Ohio State made them pay as McNeil hit a jumper to cut it to just 4. The Aztecs then scored 8 straight in just 45 seconds, fueled by a pair of threes and a Buckeye turnover and Chris Holtmann called timeout with San Diego State right back up 12. Sueing ended the run, tipping in his own miss and after another San Diego State score, McNeil drilled a long three to cut it back to 9. More San Diego State as a quick 7-0 run put the Aztecs up 16 and the Buckeyes took a timeout with 9:55 to play and now looking up at a 68-52 Aztec bulge. Out of the timeout, Sensabaugh knocked down a turn around baseline 10 footer and on the next possession, Thornton drilled a step back three to cut the lead to 11. San Diego State scored the next 3 on a bucket and a split pair of free throws, but the red hot Sean McNeil stepped into another three from the top to answer. A poster dunk on the other end by San Diego State was followed by Key picking up a loose ball in the lane and scoring all the while a flop technical foul was called on the Aztecs and at the under 8 media timeout, Ohio State trailed San Diego State 73-62. McNeil made the technical free throw out of the timeout to trim the lead to 10 and on the other end, a questionable foul call on Key sent him to the bench with his fourth and the Aztecs scored to lead by 12 with just under 6 to go. Okpara grabbed an offensive rebound and scored, but SD State scored quickly the other way to answer. Thornton went off the bounce and scored with the scoop off the glass and was fouled. He knocked down the freebie to cut it to 9 and completed the three point play. The Aztecs rolled down a three, hitting the rim seemingly 5 times before rolling through the ropes, but on the other end, Holden got to the rim along the baseline, taking a pass from Thornton and scoring while being undercut, with a flagrant 1 foul being called cutting the lead to 10 with 4:03 left in the game. Holden made the free throw along with the flagrant free throw and Ohio State kept possession, now trailing by 8. Sensabaugh got fouled, attempting a shot mid lane, and split the pair, trimming the lead to 7 and a 5 point possession for Ohio State. Another soft rim three for the Aztecs dropped to bump the lead to 10, but on the other end a pair of Thornton free throws cut the lead to 8 with just under 3 to go. They had their chances to cut it even closer, but just could not and a pair of Aztec free throws upped the lead to 10 with 1:49 left to play. A Sensabaugh turn around jumper mid-paint cut the lead to 8 and Ohio State took a timeout. The Buckeyes had to play the foul game and the Aztecs made them, going back ahead 10. Another free throw ended the scoring with the Aztecs getting the win. 

Make no mistake, this is a good basketball team folks. San Diego State is a veteran and physical group, but these young Buckeyes came together and showed no quit. Though they came up short on this night and there will be some clear growing pains early in the year, as we’ve said, the ceiling for this group is awfully high and they will win a lot of basketball games. There are a variety of scoring options within this group and as they continue to learn to play together, they will get better and better. On this night, all the credit to San Diego State for just making contested shots. The Buckeye defense closed out well and many of the shots were with a hand in the face. Unfortunately for Ohio State, it was just the Aztecs night. They will learn from this basketball game in terms of what it takes to win big time games. Good teams take advantage of lapses and that’s what happened in this game. Ohio State showed signs of who they can become but they have to put 40 minutes together to win games like this and they just didn’t get it done tonight. There will be better nights ahead and for Ohio State they will look to rebound tomorrow evening Columbus time. 

Ohio State will tip it up again tomorrow in Maui, playing the loser of Arizona and Cincinnati, due to tip shortly.  Game time for that one is 5 PM, airing on ESPN2.


-Jason Harris


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