But the Buckeyes took a huge step toward respectability with a 77-71 win over Texas Tech Thursday night at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.
OSU (7-2) and Texas Tech (5-2) were tied 71-71 with 3:12 left. But OSU held Tech scoreless on its last six possessions and put it away. Matt Sylvester's tip-in with 2:52 left gave the Buckeyes the lead for good, while Tony Stockman was a perfect 4 of 4 at the foul line in the final 27.2 seconds to ice it.
The win was a departure from OSU's two previous tough tests away from home, losses to Creighton in Kansas City and at Clemson.
"I'm really proud of our guys tonight," OSU coach Thad Matta told WBNS-TV. "This was a very good test for us, obviously. The way the game unfolded, our guys had to get some big stops, make some free throws and make some shots.
"We had a different look in our eye than we had against Creighton on the road and Clemson on the road."
Stockman was one of the key components. He tallied 23 points, hitting 5 of 10 three-point shots, to lead the Buckeyes. Terence Dials, coming off a career-high 25-point effort against Portland State, had 17 points and 10 rebounds.
"Tony hit a couple big shots and Terence was a man down low tonight," Matta said.
Brandon Fuss-Cheatham added 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the floor. Sylvester and Jamar Butler each came off the bench to score seven points. J.J. Sullinger had six points, Ivan Harris tallied three and Je'Kel Foster scored two.
OSU turned the ball over just 10 times, which allowed them to overcome a 47.1 percent effort at the foul line (8 of 17). The Buckeyes nailed 9 of 21 three-point tries (42.9 percent).
"We knew Texas Tech had turned guys over at an alarming rate," Matta said. "I thought we did a pretty good job of taking care of the basketball. We executed pretty good in the halfcourt setting."
Martin Zeno led Texas Tech with 20 points. Curtis Marshall had 13 points, while Ronald Ross scored 10.
The win avenged a loss to coach Bob Knight's Red Raiders from a year ago in Columbus. Much of the story going into this game was the intrigue that Knight had wanted the head coaching job at his alma mater when it came open this past summer.
But OSU, which is serving a self-imposed one-year postseason ban, took a big step instead with the victory.
"I hope (it carries over)," Matta said. "It doesn't get any easier. We have four straight home games coming up. The thing we're not going to do is let the foot up off the gas. We can still get better."
Ohio State jumped on Texas Tech for a quick 6-0 lead. Fuss-Cheatham opened the scoring with a driving layup just 10 seconds into the game. Sullinger and Stockman followed with jumpers in the lane.
The Buckeyes used an 8-2 run, capped by a three-pointer from Butler, to go up 16-10 with 12:20 left in the half.
OSU then pushed the lead to 34-22 after Stockman canned a three-pointer from the left corner and Fuss-Cheatham stroked one from the top with 5:51 left. OSU enjoyed its biggest lead of 13 points, at 37-24, with 3:59 left in the half after another Fuss-Cheatham trey.
At that point, Tech had hit just 8 of 26 shots from the floor.
But the Red Raiders rallied, outscoring OSU 9-4 over the remainder of the half. Zeno scored on a pair of driving layups and Jarrius Jackson added another one as Tech cut the halftime lead to 41-33.
"At the end of the first half, we maintained that eight-point lead," Matta said. "We have worked hard on late game situations where we're up two or we're up three. Hopefully that gave us some confidence in what we were doing right there."
Harris scored on a rebound and Sullinger hit a jumper in the lane as the Buckeyes moved ahead 46-35 with 18:24 left in the game.
OSU still led 53-45 when Dials scored on a hook with 13:46 left. But Texas Tech then went on an 11-2 run. Marshall had a three-point play, Ross scored on a layup, Drew Coffman buried a three and Marshall's three-pointer with 9:48 left gave the Red Raiders their first lead at 56-55.
The lead changed five times over the next three-plus minutes, with Stockman canning a three to put OSU up 63-62 with 6:32 left. That started a 9-2 OSU run, which also included treys from Sylvester and another from Stockman to put the Buckeyes up 69-64 with 5:29 left.
Zeno got the lead down to 71-69 on a three-point play with 3:42 left. After a Sylvester miss, Zeno's driving layup tied the game at 71-71 with 3:12 left. Stockman then missed a three-pointer, but Sylvester tipped it in for a 73-71 lead with 2:52 left.
The teams then traded possessions three times without scoring. Stockman had to fire a long three-pointer with the shot clock running out with 40 seconds left, but was short. Zeno rebounded and headed the other way, but lost control on the dribble and OSU's Foster took it away with 36 seconds left.
Stockman was fouled with 27.2 seconds left. He hit both free throws for a 75-71 lead with 27.2 seconds left. Tech's Darryl Dora then missed a three-point try. Stockman rebounded and was fouled. His two free throws with 17 seconds left iced the game. Jackson missed a three-point try with OSU's Sullinger rebounding and then dribbling out the rest of the clock.
"I thought Matt Sylvester had a big tip-in there and Je'Kel Foster's steal down the stretch was a big play," Matta said. "We knew this game was all on the defensive end. Zeno did an incredible job of getting to the basket, but we pulled it together on the defensive end and got it done."
OSU begins its stretch of four straight home games by hosting Morehead State at 4 p.m. Sunday. After that, OSU hosts Mercer next Wednesday, New Hampshire Dec. 28 and St. Joseph's Dec. 31 before moving into Big Ten play at top-ranked Illinois Jan. 5.