When all was lost, Tanner Holden stepped into the spotlight.
Trailing 66-64 and the final seconds ticking off the clock, the Ohio State forward swished a 3-pointer from the right wing to give the No. 25 Buckeyes (7-2) a stunning, 67-66 win in their Big Ten opener against Rutgers.
Holden's shot, his only points of the game, stunned the Scarlet Knights (6-3) and set off a frenzy inside Value City Arena after a frenetic final four moments.
"It was pretty crazy," Holden said with a sheepish smile.
Ohio State's Zed Key tied the game at 61 with a left-handed hook shot that gave him a career-high 22 points, but Rutgers' Cam Spencer hit a turnaround jumper to reclaim the lead with 1:44 to play. After the teams traded turnovers, Ohio State freshman guard Bruce Thornton drew a foul on a defensive rebound and hit one of two free throws with 56 seconds remaining to pull the Buckeyes within 63-62.
Rutgers would miss a corner 3-pointer and, in the ensuing loose ball, Thornton got to it and called timeout while in a heap of players to give the Buckeyes a final chance with 23.7 seconds left. With the fans on their feet, freshman Brice Sensabaugh's drive to the lane was blocked by Rutgers' Cliff Omoruyi and looked to seal the game.
But when Caleb McConnell missed the second of two free throws with five seconds remaining, the Buckeyes pushed the ball up the court to Holden, who had just replaced Justice Sueing. From in front of the Ohio State bench, Holden jumped in bounds, took a pass from Thornton, elevated and drained the shot as Rutgers' players clasped their hands in disbelief.
"Our guys stayed with it," coach Chris Holtmann said. "Played it until the very end. We gave them two calls at the very end based on a make or a miss. We practice those situations a lot. They did a really good job taking away his ability to get it down the floor. Having said that, Bruce made a really poised decision and what a heck of a shot by Tanner."
It was the first buzzer-beater Holden said he's hit since fourth grade.
"I almost passed out," Key said. "I was yelling. I yelled too much. I was down by the block. I just looked up in the air and was like, 'Oh wow, that’s going in.' "
After trailing by double figures during the first half, Rutgers clawed its way back and tied the game on the opening possession of the second half with an emphatic dunk from Omoruyi, who had been held to 2 points, four turnovers and two fouls in the first half.
It set a tone for what would be a grinder of a half. Ohio State would push its lead to 38-33 in the opening minutes, but Rutgers would take its first lead since the opening minutes when Cam Spencer ripped the ball from Ohio State's Bruce Thornton to start a fast break Aundre Hyatt finished with a slam dunk to give the Scarlet Knights a 44-42 lead with 13:10 to play.
It set up a grinder of a finish.
With Oklahoma State graduate transfer Isaac Likekele away to attend to a family matter back home in Texas, freshman and leading scorer Brice Sensabaugh made his first career start in what marked the first change to the starting lineup this season. Before the opening tip, Sensabaugh crouched over the midcourt line, pounded the floor seven times with his right fist and took a high-five from Rutgers’ Caleb McConnell.
The Scarlet Knights started hot, hitting three of their first four 3-pointers to take an early 11-5 lead, but Sensabaugh answered with a 3 of his own to halve the deficit and start a run that was as dominant as it was significant. Sean McNeil followed with a tying 3, Key scored with a right-handed hook shot over Omoruyi to give Ohio State a 13-11 lead and fuel what would become a 14-0 run for the Buckeyes.
Key’s imprint was everywhere. He dunked a Sensabaugh miss on a fast break. He spun around a defender for a left-handed hook. He even dished the ball to a cutting McNeil, who finished with a driving layup. The result was a 19-11 lead with 12:30 left, and Ohio State would push it as high as 11 points at 31-20 when the Scarlet Knights fought back.
After a Paul Mulcahy 3-pointer pulled the visitors within 31-23, Ohio State would turn it over on its next four possessions despite having only committed three turnovers until that point. It helped Rutgers close with a 9-0 run in the final 3:46 that allowed them to pull within 31-29 at the break.
To that point, Key had 15 of Ohio State’s points and eight of its 19 rebounds. He finished with a career-high 22 points and a career-high-tying 14 rebounds.
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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Ohio State sinks Rutgers on Tanner Holden's buzzer-beating 3-pointer