No. 3 Ohio State (12-0) fought back from the depths of the abyss to avoid an upset at the hands of Notre Dame (8-4) on Saturday, Dec. 21 in Madison Square Garden. The Buckeyes ended up prevailing 64-61 after mounting a late comeback to grab the lead.
The finish of this game was one of the craziest you'll see all year. Even ESPN was caught off guard by OSU's comeback, via Awful Announcing.
ESPN hating on an unbeaten Ohio State team once again. pic.twitter.com/7Qr1bIIqmf— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) December 22, 2013
With 58 seconds to go, OSU was down eight points, and it looked like the Buckeyes would receive their first loss of the season. They had been listless for the majority of the second half, and it looked like Notre Dame would be able to ice the game away from the free-throw line.
Ohio State went on a 14-3 run to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The Buckeyes did a great job of stepping up the defensive pressure, and were able to get a few quick steals on Notre Dame's inbound passes. It was a complete reversal from how they had performed for the first 19 minutes of the second half.
The Buckeyes' performance was best symbolized by Lenzelle Smith Jr.
Before that final minute, he was nowhere to be seen and failed to score a single point.
Ari Wasserman of The Plain Dealer was less than pleased with what he saw from the Buckeyes star, and he let it be known via his Twitter account.
If Lenzelle Smith is going to be a leader on this team when it matters the most, he can't have zero points in a game like this.— Ari Wasserman (@AriWasserman) December 22, 2013
Being consistent is something he spoke about the last six weeks. He's the team leading scorer, yet has no points in MSG.— Ari Wasserman (@AriWasserman) December 22, 2013
Then, in that last minute, Smith made his presence felt.
He was fouled by Pat Connaughton on a three-pointer with 32 seconds left after a great shot fake and hit all three free throws. He followed that up with a layup 16 seconds later that put the Buckeyes back on top for good.
Just as shocking as Ohio State's comeback was Notre Dame's capitulation. The Fighting Irish made several mistakes down the stretch to watch their seemingly unassailable lead evaporate.
USA Today's Dan Wolken thought it was an appropriate finish for the team.
This game is Notre Dame basketball in a nutshell— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) December 22, 2013
It's undoubtedly a heartbreaking defeat for the Fighting Irish. Mike Brey will watch the game type and wonder how in the world his team lost. As you'd expect, he was despondent after the game (via USA Today's Nicole Auerbach).
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey: “Hard one. Hard one to live with.”— Nicole Auerbach (@NicoleAuerbach) December 22, 2013
On the other side, Thad Matta knows his team averted disaster. The Buckeyes shot 23-of-55 as a team, including 3-of-18 from three-point range. They went on a couple of prolonged scoring droughts in the second half, and yet, they figured out a way to win.
Matta and OSU fans alike can at least take solace in how the players never gave up on the game.
Perhaps this is the kind of performance that serves as a wake-up call to Ohio State. The Buckeyes are a little over two weeks away from a major test on the road against Michigan State. They'll need to be much better if they want to go into East Lansing and get the victory.
Aaron Craft, Ohio State: A-
This was your typical Aaron Craft performance. He wasn't scoring in bunches, but he did so many things right on the court. Ohio State wouldn't have won if it wasn't for Craft acting like a madman on the defensive end late in the game.
The senior guard finished with 10 points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Lenzelle Smith Jr., Ohio State: C+
It never should've come to this for Smith. He had nine points in the game, all of which came in the final minute.
For 39 minutes, Smith was a ghost. A team can't afford to have its leading scorer invisible for such a long period, especially when it's chasing the game late. Perhaps if Smith had played better over the course of 40 minutes, OSU wouldn't have found itself needing a late run to steal a win.
Jerian Grant, Notre Dame: B+
Jerian Grant was essentially the converse of Smith. He played superbly for almost the entirety of the game, but during that final minute, he had his fair share of boneheaded plays and couldn't find the offense to stop the OSU rally.
CBSSports.com's Jeff Borzello put it best.
It was 58-50 with under one minute left when Jerian Grant turned it over. The rest is history.— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) December 22, 2013
Grant did finish with 18 points to be the game's leading scorer. It was by no means a terrible performance, but that finish left a lot to be desired.
The Buckeyes return to Columbus for their next game, where they take on Louisiana-Monroe next Friday. Notre Dame's next game is also at home, with Canisius making the trip to South Bend on Dec. 29.