INDIANAPOLIS -- It was a day for history at Lucas Oil Stadium.
On an afternoon when a number of basketball hall of famers were honored, an unranked Ohio State men’s basketball team made a little history of its own by earning a second consecutive victory against a ranked foe away from home.
This time, the stakes were higher but the outcome was the same. Four days after defeating No. 21 Miami (Fla.) on its home court, the Buckeyes (5-0) knocked off seventh-ranked Notre Dame (6-2) at the home of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts by a 67-62 final as part of the Hartford Hall of Fame Showcase.
They did so in large part to the play of sophomore guard Evan Turner, who poured in a career-high 28 points and added 10 rebounds for his second double-double of the season.
“We’re not going to let this win go to our heads,” Turner said. “We’re going to be hungry tomorrow and keep going out every day in practice and keep playing hard.”
Turner scored 20 of his 28 points in the second half as the Buckeyes increased a two-point halftime lead to 10 points and then saw it whittled down to one before emerging for the victory.
Facing OSU’s swarming zone defense, the Irish got two three-pointers from junior guard Tory Jackson that made it 63-62 Buckeyes with 26.2 seconds remaining. OSU inbounded the basketball and it found its way into Turner’s hands, and he was sent to the free-throw line with 21.6 ticks left.
He calmly swished both from the charity stripe, and the Buckeyes had a three-point lead that was secured when Notre Dame’s Kyle McAlarney’s attempt with 11.0 seconds left rimmed out. Two free throws from junior guard Jeremie Simmons set the final margin.
“We’ve got a long way to go, but I’ve loved their togetherness and the work ethic that they’ve put in,” OSU head coach Thad Matta said. “They’re enjoyable to bring to practice. They bring the right frame of mind to practice.
“There’s some bonding, and that’s something we’ve been on since last season ended.”
After a slow offensive start for the second consecutive game, the Buckeyes righted the ship and battled their way back into the game thanks in large part to their defensive pressure.
The Irish were buoyed by the return of junior forward Luke Harangody, the reigning Big East player of the year. After missing the last two games while battling pneumonia, Harangody earned the surprise start and did not waste much time making an impact by scoring his team’s first six points. With the score 13-10 in favor of the Irish, Harangody had personally scored as many points as the Buckeyes.
He finished with a team-high 25 points and 16 rebounds, but it was not enough to propel the Irish to victory.
“He’s the Big East player of the year – I expected him to play,” OSU sophomore center Dallas Lauderdale said. “He played well today. He played great. We practiced like he was playing. We didn’t not expect him to play.”
Matta admitted after the game that he knew Harangody was going to get his, but Lauderdale made more than a few highlight-worthy plays of his own. He finished with six points, five boards and six blocks.
Using a two-big-man lineup for the second time this season with freshman B.J. Mullens and Lauderdale on the court at the same time did not take long to pay off. With OSU ahead 28-26 with 56 seconds remaining in the first half, Lauderdale blocked Harangody for the third time in the first 20 minutes.
The block sprung an OSU fast break the other way that was capitalized by Mullens, who laid in a fast-break basket to push the OSU lead to four points.
Harangody would exact some revenge two possessions later, as he stole the ball from Turner as he looked to Matta for directions and then scored to set the halftime score at 30-28 in favor of the Buckeyes.
Mullens finished with 11 points in the first double-digit scoring performance of his OSU career, but the story of the game for the Buckeyes was Turner. Five of Turner’s rebounds came on offense, and two came on consecutive second-half possessions – the first an impressive leap that allowed him to corral the ball and feed it to Mullens for an easy basket, and the second a rebound he kept for himself and put in the basket.
He also played a direct role in the Buckeyes taking their first lead of the game with back-to-back steals. The first led to a David Lighty three-pointer, and the second resulted in a Turner basket that made it 17-15 Buckeyes and forced Notre Dame to call a timeout.
To open the second half, he scored OSU’s first eight points and 10 of its first 12 to help the Buckeyes to a 42-37 lead.
“I thought that he made big plays,” Matta said. “He was under control. Our guys did a pretty good job of giving him some space, and he went out and got some balls. He got his hands on a lot of balls as well.”
The win figures to put the Buckeyes back into the national rankings for the first time since they finished the 2006-07 regular season ranked as the No. 1 team in the country.
“It’s always nice to have that number with your school name,” Turner said. “I think we deserve to be ranked, but if we’re ranked or not it doesn’t take away from how we’re going to develop as a team and it’s not going to change our focus of getting better every single day.”