Ohio State Pulls Away in the 2nd Half, Drills Merrimack

In a game that saw the visiting Merrimack Warriors whistled for 21 fouls, 14 in the first half, compared to just 7 for Ohio State, the Buckeyes struggled to get any kind of offensive rhythm in the first half, but when they finally found it midway through the second half, they pulled away and blasted the defending MAAC tournament champs, 76-52 to move to 2-1 on the year. The loss dropped the Warriors to 2-2. The Buckeyes were led by Roddy Gayle who scored 20 to go along with 5 rebounds and 3 assists, while Jamison Battle added 13 and Zed Key chipped in 11 along with 12 rebounds for his first double-double of the young season. Merrimack was led by Devon Savage’s 20 and Bryan Etunmu added 11. The Buckeyes asserted themselves much better in the second half, hitting 55% of their shots in the second 20 minutes, including 6 of 9 from downtown, while the defense locked down Merrimack, holding the Warriors to 40% shooting, just 33% in the second half. The Buckeyes, as they should in a game where the opponent plays exclusively zone defense, outrebounded the Warriors 42-25, including 16 of the offensive variety leading to a 14-0 advantage in second chance points in the victory. 

The Buckeyes raced out to a quick 6-0 lead on a pair of triples from the left wing by Roddy Gayle. After a Merrimack three, Evan Mahaffey dropped in a pair of free throws to extend the lead. Another Merrimack triple was followed by a pair of offensive rebounds by the Buckeyes which led to Gayle finding Felix Okpara for a lay-in and after a Merrimack turnover, the first media timeout was taken with Ohio State on top 10-6. Merrimack drew closer when one of two free throws dropped, but Bruce Thornton found Gayle in the middle of the zone and Roddy scored mid-paint to extend the Buckeye lead. After a Warrior turnover, Jamison Battle took a pass at the top of the paint and his turnaround jumper fell to double up Merrimack 14-7. A pair of Battle free throws extended the lead and at the under 12, the Buckeyes led the Warriors 16-7. A lob and bucket for Merrimack stopped the 6-0 Buckeye run, but Battle found Okpara at the rim for a dunk to answer. Gayle split a pair of free throws to extend the lead to double-digits, but a Merrimack bucket trimmed the lead back to 8. Devin Royal found Gayle on a backdoor cut down the lane and Gayle finished with authority putting Ohio State back up 10 and following a Merrimack turnover, Royal scored his first collegiate points, with a short jumper off the window from the left block and at the under 8, Ohio State led 23-13. Out of the timeout, a Warrior triple sliced into the Buckeye lead and a Buckeye turnover led to a Merrimack layup and quickly the Warriors were within 5. Zed Key split a pair of free throws on back to back possessions, stopping the 5-0 Merrimack run and extended the lead to 7. Thornton split a pair of free throws on Ohio State’s next possession to extend the lead but the Buckeyes were suddenly having issues at the stripe. Key, back at the stripe, split another pair as Ohio State had missed 4 of 8 free throw attempts in a game that was becoming clunky with Merrimack’s fouling. A Merrimack bucket stopped the Ohio State run and ended a near 4 minute Warrior scoring drought. After an Ohio State turnover, a Merrimack triple cut the Buckeye lead to 4 at the final media timeout of the half. Out of the break, Key nailed a pair of freebies and after a stop on the defensive end, Scotty Middleton drilled a pair of free throws to extend the lead to 8. The Buckeyes forced another Warrior turnover and Thornton was fouled mid-paint sending Bruce to the line and he buried both his free throws. Merrimack scored the next 4 forcing Ohio State to call timeout with under a minute to play in the first 20 minutes and the Buckeyes last 9 points coming from the line. Gayle went left in the middle of the paint and scored with a scoop off the glass ending a nearly 8 minute drought without a Buckeye field goal. Merrimack scored at the rim to answer and end the first half scoring with Ohio State leading 35-29. The Buckeye finished the half shooting just 32% against the 3-2 Merrimack zone, including 2 of 5 from downtown. Merrimack knocked down 46% of their shot attempts and 4 of 10 from long. The Buckeyes out rebounded the Warriors 22-15, while the Warriors fouling sent Ohio State to the stripe 20 times where they made 15. Devon Savage led Merrimack with 8 and Roddy Gayle led Ohio State with 13. It was an uneven first half with Merrimack being whistled for 14 fouls compared to Ohio State’s 3 so it lacked a lot of flow in the halfcourt. Ohio State did a nice job splitting the zone in the middle with passing to the high post, assisting on 8 of 9 made field goals, but the shots they did attempt weren’t falling at a high enough rate in the first half.

Merrimack opened the second half scoring to cut the lead to four and the Buckeyes turned it over 3 times before finally scoring at the 16:35 mark when Gayle scored at the rim after Mahaffey found him mid-paint. The Buckeyes extended the lead when Mahaffey drove uncontested to the rim for another Buckeye score and at the first media timeout, the Buckeyes led 39-31. Ohio State extended the lead when Gayle took a Thornton lob on an inbounds play just to the right of the Ohio State bucket and flushed it home. Ohio State took advantage of a Merrimack miscue on the other end as Mahaffey went coast to coast for two forcing Merrimack to call timeout with 14:03 to play and Ohio State threatening to run away with it, leading 43-31 and on an 8-0 run. A Thornton runner off the glass dropped to extend the run and the lead before a Merrimack hoop ended the 10-0 run. Coming out of the under 12 media timeout, Battle went to the line and split the pair and the Buckeyes led by 13. A Merrimack 10-3 run got the Warriors a bit closer, with Ohio State’s lone points coming from a Middleton triple. A Battle bucket, a Gayle triple and a Key offensive rebound and score put the Buckeyes back in control and Merrimack took a timeout, attempting to stop the Buckeye momentum as Ohio State was on a 7-0 run and led 56-43 with 7:49 to play. A Merrimack offensive foul out of the timeout gave the ball back to the Buckeyes and Thornton penetrated the paint and kicked back out to the top where Battle drained a three extending the lead. Key picked the pocket of a Warrior giving the ball back to Ohio State and Thornton drained a three as the Buckeyes were pulling away. The Buckeye run extended to 16-0 when Battle drilled a long three from the right point. Merrimack ended the run with a three of their own and called timeout with just under 5 to play and the Buckeyes comfortably in front, 65-46. A quick drop step from the left block and dunk by Key extended the lead and on the next possession Key tipped in a miss to put the Buckeyes up 23. A steal and score by Bonner and at the next dead ball, freshman center Austin Parks saw his first action of the young season. Parks made an immediate impact as a nice interior post feed to Royal led to a bucket. Merrimack hit a three on their end and after a Buckeye turnover another Warrior triple fell. A Bonner triple fell to answer and complete the scoring in the Buckeye victory. 

While it wasn’t necessarily pretty for much of the basketball game, Ohio State remained patient and when they got their opening and shots began to drop, they poured it on and were able to pull away. There were some things to like even when Ohio State was struggling in the first half. They were doing a good job executing against the zone, specifically Evan Mahaffey, who was very effective catching the ball in the middle of the zone and creating offensive opportunities. Unfortunately shots weren’t dropping but part of that was the constant fouling by the Warriors, and the Buckeyes went through a stretch where they were splitting their free throw opportunities. They took care of the basketball for the most part, turning it over 13 times compared to 19 by Merrimack, and they shared it very well, assisting on 16 of their 26 made shots. For the first 25 minutes or so, Merrimack controlled the tempo, but the game turned when Ohio State created some opportunities off their defense and were able to take advantage in transition to take control the rest of the way. Roddy Gayle’s aggressiveness on both ends along with Jamison Battle finally finding some offense were key in the second half run as the Buckeyes salted this one away midway though the final 20. Ohio State will put this one to bed and move on as they look to string wins together and the next opportunity comes on Sunday afternoon. 

Ohio State will tip it up again on Sunday afternoon, welcoming Western Michigan to the Schott. Game time is scheduled for 4 PM airing on BTN. 

-Jason Harris

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