Basketball

Zed Key KOs Coach K’s Crew As Buckeyes Knock Off Top-Ranked Duke 71-66 | Four Takeaways From OSU’s Upset Win

Ohio State held Duke without a field goal over the game’s final five minutes while OSU sophomore center Zed Key scored a game-high 20 points and junior forward EJ Liddell added 14 points and 14 rebounds as the Buckeyes (5-2) upset No. 1-ranked Duke (7-1) 71-66 Tuesday night at Value City Arena.

It was the ninth time in school history that an unranked Ohio State team has knocked off the AP’s top-ranked squad.

Trailing 65-57 following a Wendell Moore, Jr. layup, Key answered with a basket in the paint of his own. Following a Trevor Keels free throw with 4:29 to play — which would be Duke’s final point — Jamari Wheeler scored on a layup thanks to a fantastic seal by Key. Cedric Russell then followed that with a three-pointer to make it 66-64 with 2:32 remaining.

Liddell was fouled with 1:03 to play and hit both of his free throws to give Ohio State the 67-66 lead. Liddell was 1-of-5 from the free throw line prior to that moment, yet he dropped in both when the Buckeyes needed them most.

Duke center Mark Williams missed a shot in the paint and Russell came down with the rebound — one of three for him on the night. On OSU’s ensuing possession, Liddell put the ball on the floor, got stopped and was still able to hit a pull-up 15 footer to extend the Ohio State lead to 69-66 with 15 seconds to play.

On the ensuing possession, Duke’s star freshman big man Paolo Banchero missed a three and Russell again came down with the rebound. He was fouled and made both of his free throws to give the Buckeyes their final score.

Russell was instrumental on the night, scoring a season-high 12 points on 3-of-4 shooting — including 3-of-3 from three-point range. The Buckeyes were struggling to score and he provided exactly what Ohio State needed.

The Buckeyes shot 26-of-54 (.481) from the field and 8-of-20 (.400) from three-point territory, but just 11-of-22 (.500) from the free throw line. Their struggles at the charity stripe almost did them in.

In fact, it would have if not for the Ohio State defense. The Buckeyes held the Blue Devils to .385 shooting (25-of-65) from the field and just 4-of-14 (.286) from three-point range. Duke didn’t turn the ball over much (7), but Ohio State rarely made anything easy for them offensively.

The Buckeyes were at arm’s length for a good portion of the first half, but their nine turnovers in the game’s first 20 minutes and 3-of-10 shooting from the free throw line eventually caught up with them. A 7-0 Duke run in the half’s final minutes extended a 29-25 lead to 36-25 with under four minutes to play. The halftime lead settled at 43-30 for the Blue Devils.

Duke’s lead grew to 49-34 following a jumper from Wendell Moore, Jr. The Buckeyes then mounted a comeback, beginning with a two-point jumper from Jamari Wheeler and threes from Kyle Young and Justin Ahrens. A three-minute scoreless drought then struck the game, but Key unstruck it with a hook shot to make it 53-44. That was quickly followed by a blocked shot from Liddell and a three from Justin Ahrens to make it 53-47 with under 13 minutes to play.

Over the next nine minutes, Duke’s lead grew to 11 points before the Buckeyes decided to lock the Blue Devils down defensively and make their final charge.

The Passing Wasn’t Passable

The Buckeyes had nine turnovers in the first half and they could have had about six more, and all for the same reason — bad passing. Some would call it lazy passing, but “careless” is probably the more accurate term. Inaccurate passing is also another solid descriptor. Passes into the post were poked away like the Buckeyes and Blue Devils were playing pattycake. Even passing from one station to the next was difficult. Too often the passes weren’t shaded away from the defender and it was an easy interception or poke into the backcourt for Duke. The Buckeyes trailed 43-30 at the half, thanks in large part to the Blue Devils’ 13 points off of turnovers in the game’s first 20 minutes. The second half, however, featured just three turnovers for Ohio State and Duke managed just two points off of those three miscues.

Ahrens Shouldn’t Need So Much Room

I understand that Justin Ahrens is a catch-and-shoot guy and that he is very good at it when he’s got plenty of room. Unfortunately, “plenty of room” is not something you’re generally going to get from Duke. In fact, you’re not going to get much room from most good teams, which has led to Ahrens forcing shots with a hand in his face or extending his range beyond where he’s comfortable. He is not Jon Diebler with unlimited range and so he needs more help finding his shot than some other sharpshooters. He still kept fighting, however, even driving the lane at one point. This was not a great shooting night for Ahrens as he was 2-of-7 from three-point range, but it was arguably his best defensive game as a Buckeye on a night of difficult matchups for Ohio State. Ahrens usually has to contribute on offense in order to have an impact, but that was not the case tonight. His defense kept him on the court as he saw 35 minutes of action and grabbed six rebounds.

Cedric Russell, Cedric Muscle, Cedric Hustle

Whatever you want to call him, just make sure you call him more often. Without Cedric Russell in this game, the Buckeyes don’t win and they may have gotten blown out. Russell scored 12 points but he also added energy to the crowd with his shooting and he also grabbed some key rebounds. He can get his own shot, which is something that can get an offense out of a slump, such as the one the Buckeyes were in tonight. Russell has a quick shot and possesses the ability to drive or shoot off the dribble. It has taken him some time to get up to speed with big-time college basketball, but you have to think if he can do this against Duke, then maybe he’s getting ready to become a regular contributor for the Buckeyes.

Zed’s Fed, Baby

Duke probably never looked all that hard at Zed Key on the recruiting trail because he’s not the tallest post player, nor does he possess five tools and make NBA scouts drool. In fact, the closest he probably ever got to an offer from Duke was actually an offer from the Duquesne Dukes. Tuesday night, however, Zed Key handed Mike Krzyzewski some regrets on his final trip to Columbus. Key scored 20 points and when the Buckeyes needed baskets, they looked to him to handle Duke’s one-on-one defense in the post. And he did. No combination of McDonald’s All-Americans was able to handle Key on the night, which probably didn’t come as a surprise to many of Key’s teammates or coaches.

The Box Score

[Zed Key header photo courtesy of the Ohio State Dept. of Athletics.]