Ohio State showed that it has the firepower to run with a top-20 team on its home court without Evan Turner, but that winning those kinds of games will be a different matter.
The No. 13 Buckeyes nearly battled back from double-digit deficits in each half but could not come away with a victory against No. 22 Butler, dropping a 74-66 final.
The Bulldogs (7-3) stiffened defensively and put together a 15-0 run in the second half that turned a 52-50 nailbiter into a 67-50 laugher. But rather than fold without their go-to player on the court, the Buckeyes (7-2) rallied.
A William Buford jumper stemmed the Butler run with 4:20 remaining, and from there the Buckeyes would begin their comeback. Junior guard Jon Diebler drove the basket and connected with 52.6 seconds remaining, capping a 16-2 OSU run that made it 69-66 in favor of the home team thanks in large part to a full-court press that rattled the Butler guards.
On the ensuing possession, Butler’s Willie Veasley drove the basket from the wing and drew contact with OSU guard Jeremie Simmons. Although television replays seemed to show that Veasley extended his arm, Simmons was whistled for the blocking foul.
Veasley hit both free throws with 37.1 seconds remaining to push his team’s lead back to five points, and the final outcome was set.
“There is some fight in them,” OSU head coach Thad Matta told the Ohio State Basketball Radio Network. “It’s a situation where that’s the thing we’ve got to hang our hat on. We’ve got to be fighters and competitors. We’ve got to find ways to win games.”
Senior guard P.J. Hill earned the start in place of Turner at the point, but the position was not primarily his. Simmons saw 26 minutes of playing time compared to 14 for Hill, while junior David Lighty also handled the point on a few occasions.
Simmons contributed 11 points off the bench and had five assists against one turnover, while Hill was scoreless with one turnover and one assist.
In place of Turner, Buford took over the scoring mantle and finished with a team-high 20 points on 7 of 12 shooting despite Matta saying he was a game-time decision to play after going down Thursday with an undisclosed ailment. He was backed by Lighty and junior Dallas Lauderdale, who finished with 16 and 12 points, respectively.
Without Turner to key on, Butler turned its focus to guard Jon Diebler. The junior guard had canned at least five three-pointers in his last five consecutive games, but he was kept in check for nearly the entire game by the Bulldogs. He finished with seven points while playing all 40 minutes, and his streak of 18 consecutive games with at least one trey was in jeopardy until he hit one with 1:35 left.
Turner’s impact was most missed on the glass, however. The Buckeyes were out-rebounded by a 40-27 margin.
“It all came down to the rebounding,” Matta said. “We couldn’t come up with the rebounds and that was probably the difference for us.”
The Buckeyes got their legs under them with 5:53 left in the first half when Butler center Matt Howard picked up his second foul. The result was sophomore guard William Buford knocking down two free throws, making the score 28-20.
Those two baskets from the charity stripe ignited a 16-0 OSU run that gave the visitors a 34-28 with 2:16 remaining. Four Buckeyes scored during the stretch led by five points from Lighty, while Butler missed all seven shots it took from the floor and committed one turnover.
Butler’s Gordon Hayward broke the drought that lasted 5:15 with a drive to the basket with 1:29 remaining that made it 34-30 in favor of the Buckeyes.
Until Howard went to the bench, the Bulldogs had opened up a lead as high as 11 points at 21-10 with 11:40 left.
Hayward led all scorers with 24 points, while Veasley added 15.
The game marked the fourth and final contest between the teams in as many years. Each team held serve at home, splitting the series at two games apiece. It also marked the 41st time the two teams had met but the first time both teams were ranked at the time.
The Buckeyes return to action Wednesday at home against Presbyterian.