Ohio State Buckeyes guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. (32) takes a shot against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the second half of the Gotham Classic at Madison Square Garden. The Buckeyes won the game 64-61.
Ohio State survived its toughest challenge of the season its last time out.
It’s unlikely to receive much of a test in its final tuneup before the start of conference play.
The third-ranked Buckeyes look to complete a perfect non-conference slate in the regular season for the first time in three years Friday night in their first meeting with Louisiana-Monroe, which hasn’t defeated a ranked opponent in more than two decades.
Ohio State (12-0) hasn’t faced the stiffest of competition, with its only game against a ranked team coming Nov. 16 against then-No. 17 Marquette. The Golden Eagles are nowhere near the Top 25 anymore, however, having lost five of 10.
The Buckeyes won each of their first 11 games by double digits, but expected a challenge from Notre Dame on Saturday in the BlackRock Gotham Classic at Madison Square Garden, and the Fighting Irish delivered. Ohio State appeared to be on its way to its first loss, trailing by eight with 49 seconds remaining, before storming back for a 64-61 win.
Lenzelle Smith Jr. scored seven of his nine points in the final 33 seconds – including going 5 of 5 at the line – and put the Buckeyes ahead on a layup with 16 seconds to play.
"I don’t really know what happened. It was a big blur," senior guard Aaron Craft said. "We never stopped. We never gave up. Guys were running around getting tips and guys made big free throws."
A hallmark of Ohio State has been its defense, and the team stepped up in the waning moments, forcing four turnovers in the final minute.
The Buckeyes, who limited Notre Dame to 4-of-14 shooting from beyond the arc, rank fourth in the country in scoring defense at 55.9 points per game and third in opponent 3-point shooting at 25.0 percent.
That could be a cause of concern for Louisiana-Monroe (3-4), which is averaging 59.0 points and shooting 37.5 percent from the floor during a three-game losing streak. The Warhawks are also tied for 341st out of 345 Division I schools with an average of 17.0 turnovers.
Ohio State Buckeyes forward LaQuinton Ross (10) talks with head coach Thad Matta early in the game against the Delaware Fightin Blue Hens at the Schottenstein Center.
Louisiana-Monroe leading scorer Amos Olatayo has gone cold, averaging 11.5 points on 35.4 percent shooting in the last four games after averaging 21.0 points and 72.2 percent in the first three.
Smith, Ohio State’s leading scorer, had a rough night offensively against Notre Dame until the final minute. The senior had averaged 15.7 points on 57.4 percent shooting – including 15 of 30 from 3-point range – in his previous seven contests.
LaQuinton Ross had 16 points and a career high-tying 11 rebounds Saturday, and is averaging 17.7 points in his last three contests – 4.9 better than his season average.
Ohio State, which opens Big Ten play at Purdue on New Year’s Eve, is seeking its first undefeated non-conference slate in the regular season since 2010-11.
The Warhawks haven’t played since Sunday’s 83-61 home loss to Louisiana Tech, and are 2-16 on the road since the start of last season.
Louisiana-Monroe opened the season with an 80-63 loss to then-No. 5 Kansas and has dropped 22 straight games against ranked foes since defeating No. 9 Arkansas 87-78 on Dec. 30, 1992.
"Ohio State is ranked third in the country and it’s going to be a challenge," Louisiana-Monroe coach Keith Richard said. "I said when we went into this stretch of at LSU, at Ole Miss, Tech at home and at Ohio State that we’d go into it with enthusiasm and we’d come out of it with enthusiasm. That’s what we’re going to do."