“Never say die” Buckeyes rally in the final minute to stun Notre Dame, remain unbeaten

Senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. scored all nine of his points in the final 44 seconds of the game to help lead No. 3/2 Ohio State to an improbable 64-61 win over Notre Dame in the BlackRock Gotham Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York, Saturday night.

Ohio State Buckeyes guard Shannon Scott (3) puts up a shot over Fighting Irish guard Jerian Grant (22). (Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports)

Ohio State Buckeyes guard Shannon Scott (3) puts up a shot over Fighting Irish guard Jerian Grant (22). (Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports)

With 1:56 to play, Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant drained a step-back three-pointer to put the Fighting Irish ahead 58-50 and the game looked like it was over at that point.

Not quite.

In the next 26 seconds, though, Ohio State missed three-straight field goal attempts including two treys during that span as the Buckeyes still trailed 58-50 with less than a minute left.

As they say, “it ain’t over until it’s over.”

With 48 ticks on the clock, junior forward LaQuinton Ross scored on a layup that made it a two-possession game. Then the Buckeyes forced Irish guard Demetrius Jackson to turn the ball over as a steal by junior guard Shannon Scott led to a layup by Smith Jr. to trim Notre Dame’s lead down to 58-54 with 44 seconds to go.

On the Irish’s inbounds play, the ball went to Grant, who then tried a jump-pass, but it was tipped by Scott and he was fouled going after the loose ball. Scott’s two converted free throws made it 58-56 with 41 seconds remaining.

The next time Notre Dame inbounded the ball, Ohio State head coach Thad Matta elected to foul right way, which sent Jackson to the line for the one-and-one, making both to put the Irish up 60-56 with 39.6 seconds left.

On the Buckeyes’ next trip down the court, senior guard Aaron Craft drove down the lane and kicked it out to Scott on the wing, who sent a pass to Smith Jr. in the corner. He pump faked and then sent a three-pointer near the baseline in front of the OSU bench towards the basket. But Smith. Jr. was fouled by Pat Connaughton on his release. Smith Jr.’s three free throws made it 60-59 with 32.9 seconds left.

Once again, Matta decided to foul right away sending seldom-used freshman Steve Vasturia to the foul line. He missed the front end of a one-and-one and that was rebounded by Smith Jr. Craft eventually drove into the middle of the key and dropped a bounce pass to a cutting Smith Jr. for the easy layup that gave Ohio State its first lead in over 11 minutes.

Now leading 61-60 with 16.9 seconds to go, Notre Dame turned the ball over again and Grant fouled Smith Jr. with 9.8 seconds remaining, who then made both free throws.

The Irish had one last shot trailing by three, but Jackson’s three-pointer at the buzzer clanged off the back of the rim.

“I’m still trying to figure out what happened,” Matta said after the game.

In reality, it never should have came down to such dramatics. The Buckeyes were in control during the first half, leading as much as eight following a nifty dunk by junior forward Sam Thompson with 3:11 left until intermission.

At halftime, Ohio State led 33-26, but Notre Dame came out to start the second stanza on a 9-2 run that tied it up at 35-all with 17:57 left.

It was a back-and-forth affair until 11:06 to go when Connaughton sank a jumper and the Irish led until the 16.9 second mark.

For the game, Ohio State was 23-of-55 (41.8%) from the field, 3-of-18 (16.7%) from three-point range, and 15-of-20 (75.0%) from the free throw line. Notre Dame was 23-of-51 (45.1%) from the floor, 4-of-14 (28.6%) from beyond the arc, and 11-of-19 (57.9%) from the charity stripe.

Ross led the Buckeyes with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Junior center Amir Williams added 13, while Craft and Scott both chipped in 10.

Up next in the final non-conference game on the schedule, Ohio State hosts Louisiana-Monroe, Friday night. Tip-off at Value City arena is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. ET, and it will be televised on BTN.

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