OK, so maybe Ohio State and Providence, who now sport identical mediocre 17-12 records, weren't the best teams the NCAA could have offered for Thursday night's nationally televised game at the Huntsman Center.
They did, however, put on an exciting little late-night show for the national audience (or at least a bunch of loyal fans in Ohio and Rhode Island) who stayed up to the wee hours along with 11,733 in-person fans.When it finally ended at 11:49 p.m. MST (or 1:49 a.m. Friday for the bleary-eyed folks in Ohio and Rhode Island and other parts east), Ohio State was an 84-83 winner in overtime.
"I'm extremely proud of my players - they made the big plays down the stretch," said OSU's first-year coach Randy Ayers, who starts three sophomores and a freshman and whose best player Thursday was a freshman off the bench.
The Buckeye win saved a little face for the mighty Big Ten, which after being awarded seven spots in the NCAAs, was 1-2 going into the contest, with the lone win being an overtimer over a No. 16 seed.
The victory also gave the Buckeyes the unenviable task of playing Saturday afternoon (12:25 p.m.) against the West's No. 1 seed UNLV, which breezed to a 30-point win earlier Thursday evening.
Ohio State may just look at that game as a lucky bonus after the way they got through Thursday night's contest. The Buckeyes had to overcome a 12-point deficit with six minutes left and then have an icy-veined freshman knock down a 3-pointer at the end of regulation to force overtime.
Alex Davis, a 6-foot reserve freshman from Cincinnati, kept OSU in the game in the second half practically by himself as he poured in 22 of his career-high 24 points. That earned him some postgame TV minutes with Billy Packer as the CBS Player of the Game.
His biggest basket came after the Friars' Carlton Screen had sunk two free throws with 12 seconds left to make it 72-69 Providence.
OSU set up a play for Davis, called "Wide Left." It seemed simple enough. Chris Jent set a screen at the top of the key, Davis brought the ball up, faked to the right of Jent, came back to the left and let fly with one of his high-arching shots from 23 feet.
It hit nothing but net.
The clock was stopped at :02 but was switched to :04 by an official. Then after watching a TV replay at the scorers' table, officials switched it to :03. Plenty of time for a team such as Ball State, which had exactly that much time left, down by two in the day's first game, and pulled out a win. But the best Providence could get out of it was a desperation heave from midcourt by Screen that sailed halfway up the west tunnel.
In overtime, OSU took control and went up 78-75 at the midway point before a Quinton Burton layup cut the margin to one. Then came a big play when, following a miss by Mark Baker, freshman Jimmy Jackson was there for the follow tip to make it 80-77 with 47 seconds left.
Burton made just one of two free throws for Providence with 29 seconds left, and then the Buckeyes sewed it up at the foul line with Davis and Jackson each sinking a pair. Murdock's 3-pointer at the buzzer was meaningless.
Afterward, dejected Providence Coach Rick Barnes was second-guessing himself and taking the blame for the loss.
"After a game like this you look back and think which possessions made a difference. And I feel I should have made the decision to foul when we were up by three with 12 seconds to go. I think that cost us the ball game."
Actually, what really cost the Friars the ballgame was some sloppy play and bad shot selection with a 12-point lead late in the game. Barnes had wanted his team to be aggressive and not sit on the lead, a courageous move most coaches don't make. But the Friars couldn't score on eight straight possessions and the Buckeyes reeled off 11 straight points.
"When we were down 66-54, I told them, `If we're going to go out, let's go out fighting,' " said Ayers.
It didn't take long for OSU to get back into the game. At the 5:45 mark, Carter hit a free throw to make it 66-55. Just over a minute later, it was 66-63. Baker hit a pair of free throws, Jackson scored on a dunk after a steal, Jamaal Brown hit two foul shots and Davis sank a jumper to cut the margin to 66-63 with 4:37 left.
The Friars helped by throwing the ball away a couple of times and having 6-10 center Marty Conlon suddenly do a poor impersonation of a guard as he missed badly on a pair of 17-footers.
"I wish we would have done a better job of shot selection," said Barnes. "We felt we had to keep being agressive, but maybe it cost us."
The Buckeyes led most of the first half, eventually taking a 31-29 halftime lead. But the Friars outscored them 16-6 to start the second half and moved out to a 45-37 lead.
Besides the 24 from Davis, the Buckeyes got 17 from Baker and 15 apiece from Jackson and Perry Carter. Providence was led by Screen's 20 points, 17 from Murdock and 14 from Conlon.