NEW YORK — It looked like Ohio State’s winning streak to start the season was over. The third-ranked Buckeyes were down eight to Notre Dame with less than two minutes to play, and their offense was nowhere to be found.
They still had their tough defense, and somehow they were able to turn the game completely around and beat the Fighting Irish 64-61 on Saturday night in the BlackRock Gotham Classic at Madison Square Garden.
“I don’t really know what happened. It was a big blur,” Ohio State senior guard Aaron Craft said. “We never stopped. We never gave up. Guys were running around getting tips and guys made big free throws.”
While a few players did come up with big defensive plays, it was mostly one guy who made the free throws for the Buckeyes (12-0).
Lenzelle Smith, Jr., scored seven of his nine points in the final 33 seconds — including going 5 of 5 at the line — to lead the rally.
“I’m still trying to figure out what happened,” OSU coach Thad Matta said. “My mind was fixated on if we wanted to foul with the time situation or do we play it out defensively, and all of a sudden it was closer and closer and closer, and we get the lead. It happened quick, It was a great win.”
The Buckeyes went 9 minutes, 10 seconds without a field goal and at one point were 6 of 21 from the field as Notre Dame (8-4) opened what seemed to be a comfortable lead late.
Jerian Grant hit a 3-pointer as the shot clock was expiring to give the Fighting Irish a 58-50 advantage with 1:54 to play.
“I am so thoroughly disappointed,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “We had such a good chance at such a great win.”
The Buckeyes turned up the defensive intensity, and they converted consecutive steals into a 58-56 deficit with 40 seconds to go.
Demetrius Jackson made two free throws for Notre Dame a second later.
Smith was fouled taking a 3-pointer and he made all three free throws to bring Ohio State within 60-59 with 32 seconds left.
Steve Vasturia, who was in the game because point guard Eric Atkins had fouled out, missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 31 seconds left, his first free throw attempt of the season.
Smith scored down low on a nice pass by Craft to give the Buckeyes a 61-60 lead with 16 seconds to go.