COLUMBUS — Aaron Craft scored 17 points — including eight free throws down the stretch — to help No. 10 Ohio State hold off neighboring rival Ohio 79-69 on Tuesday night.
Amir Williams had a career-high 14 points, reserve Sam Thompson had 12 and LaQuinton Ross added 10 for the Buckeyes (2-0).
Ohio State built a 12-point halftime lead and never trailed in a game with little continuity due to the constant whistles calling the new contact rules. Ohio State was 37 of 50 at the line.
Stevie Taylor and Nick Kellogg each had 21 points for Ohio (1-1), down by as many as 17 before cutting the gap to five points with 4 minutes left.
The teams, just 75 miles apart, hadn’t met on the court in 19 years.
There were a combined 55 fouls called and five Bobcats fouled out.
Down by double figures most of the game, the Bobcats got back into it in the closing minutes behind the play of Taylor and Kellogg.
Trailing 64-53, Kellogg hit a reverse layup in traffic before Craft missed a layup at the other end. A long pass led to Taylor’s three-point play that cut it to 64-58 with just over 5 minutes remaining.
After a free throw by Craft, Ndour hit a follow shot to cut it to 65-60. Williams then tipped in a miss by Ross. Off an Ohio miss, Craft hit two more foul shots to push the lead back to 69-60.
Still, the game wasn’t firmly in hand until Scott drove the left baseline and flipped a pass to the right corner to Smith who hit a 3 with 2 minutes remaining for a 74-64 lead.
The Bobcats never got closer than seven points again as Craft scored nine of Ohio State’s last 12 points.
The Buckeyes led 40-28 after a foul fest of a first 20 minutes. The teams combined for 25 fouls, 15 by the Bobcats.
It appeared Ohio State might just run away and hide at the beginning. With the Bobcats looking hesitant and nervous, the Buckeyes ran off the first nine points and held Ohio scoreless for the opening 6:32 until Taylor finally broke the ice on a drive.
With the constant barrage of fouls preventing either team from building any momentum, Ohio State built a 24-7 lead by the half’s midpoint. But with Taylor scoring six straight points the Bobcats drew within 28-20.
Just as quickly, however, the Buckeyes ran off the next six points on a 3 by Ross and three free throws by Craft.
Ohio had two players with three fouls (subs Treg Setty and T.J. Hall) and three others with two (including starters Jon Smith and Ricardo Johnson). The Buckeyes hit 15 of 20 free throws in the opening half.
It was the first meeting between the teams since the 1994-95 season. The Bobcats won that Preseason NIT game, 74-67 at St. John Arena behind 26 points and 15 rebounds by Gary Trent. Jeff Boals, now an Ohio State assistant coach, came off the bench to hit 7 of 11 shots from the field and score 14 points while grabbing eight rebounds for the Bobcats.
There were connections everywhere. Former Ohio State star Clark Kellogg was in the stands dressed in Ohio’s green and white to support his son, starter Nick Kellogg.
The coaches, Ohio State’s Thad Matta and Ohio’s Jim Christian, had even been on the same Miami (Ohio) staff briefly during the 1994-95 season.