COLUMBUS — Ohio State found its energy after a sluggish performance earlier in the week, and the Buckeyes needed every bit of it to beat Providence.
JaQuan Lyle scored 20 points and Jae’Sean Tate added 14 as Ohio State held off the Friars 72-67 on Thursday night.
Ohio State (3-0) looked sharper after barely surviving North Carolina Central earlier in the week and won this game despite the efforts of Rodney Bullock, who was 5 for 9 from beyond the 3-point line and scored 27 points for Providence (1-1).
“It just seemed like we had more flow to us,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said.
Trevor Thompson added 12 points for the Buckeyes in their opener of the Gavitt Tipoff Games, an eight-game series featuring Big Ten teams against the Big East.
Indiana transfer Emmitt Holt scored 11 for Providence, and Jalen Lindsey booked 10 as the Friars as a team shot just 34 percent from the floor. The Buckeyes made exactly half their shots.
Providence, searching for an identity this season after the loss of its two best players to the NBA, couldn’t overcome the Ohio State lead but was still in the game in the final few minutes.
Bullock closed it to 50-49 at the 10-minute mark with a 3-pointer, but the Buckeyes went on a 9-0 run over the next 1:28 to lengthen the lead again. The Friars pulled within two at the 4-minute mark with an Isiah Jackson 3-pointer, but a series of fouls put Buckeyes at the line and allowed them to build the lead and hang onto it.
“We fought back a couple different times,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said. “I think we were down by double digits two different times and found a way to get back. We lost a lot last year, and to grind it out and make it a competitive game right down to the wire, I’m really proud of our group.”
The Buckeyes led the cold-shooting Friars 38-28 at the half, highlighted by a 9-2 run that erased a 17-16 Providence lead, and punctuated with a Keita Bates-Diop dunk off a steal and a 3-pointer from Lyle. That’s the last time the Friars would lead.
Ohio State dominated inside, scoring 42 in the paint against Providence’s 20.
“I thought we did a good job finishing down there,” Matta said. “It’s been a little bit of a problematic area for us. Our guys did a good job of getting the ball where we wanted it.”
Providence: The departures of superstar Kris Dunn and sophomore Ben Bentil to the NBA left Cooley without a proven, experienced player around which he could build this year’s team, although Bullock stepped up to carry the load Thursday. Some of his teammates are going to have to do more for the Friars to be successful.
Ohio State: After struggling on Monday, Ohio State triumphed in their first true test of the season. The Buckeyes were able to hold off Providence’s scrappy second-half charges and keep the lead.
“We were up by 12 points at one point, but they went on a run,” Lyle said. “This team last year probably would have folded and end up losing the game. It shows our maturity and how much we have grown up. We will continue to build off this game.”
Bates-Diop went down awkwardly with his leg bent behind him about six minutes into the second half. He stayed down awhile, but eventually was helped to his feet and walked to the locker room under his own power. Matta said Bates-Diop was day-to-day with an ankle injury.
Providence: Returns home to play Grambling State on Saturday.
Ohio State: Plays Western Carolina at home Monday night. The Buckeyes also play the day before and the day after Thanksgiving.