Ohio State responded to a loss the way coach Chris Holtmann wanted his team to, and the result is a matchup against No. 23 Florida in the championship game of the Beach Division at the Fort Myers Tip-Off on Wednesday in Florida.
The Buckeyes (4-1) used a last-second 3-pointer by Meechie Johnson to down No. 21 Seton Hall 79-76 on Monday after Holtmann questioned the team’s toughness in a hostile environment during a 71-65 loss at Xavier on Friday.
“It was a heavyweight bout,” Holtmann said in his postgame radio interview Monday. “Seton Hall is really good and we kept slugging each other, really. A lot of body blows delivered and finally Meechie made a heck of a play there at the end. Our guys didn’t flinch, and they made some really tough shots.”
The Gators (4-0) had an easier time in a 80-60 rout of California. The score was tied at 17 with eight minutes left in the first before the Gators outscored the Golden Bears 29-10 for a 46-27 halftime lead and were not threatened in the second half.
Florida forced a season-high 18 turnovers that led to 19 points.
“The way we finished the first half was obviously the difference in the game,” Florida coach Mike White said during a postgame radio interview. “Our pressure intensified a little bit. We created some turnovers in our press.
“The second 10 minutes of the first half is what separated us. We played pretty even there in the second half. I thought we showed a lot of maturity at times. At times we could have been more sharp in the second 20.”
Colin Castleton led the Gators with 16 points, followed by Tyree Appleby (15) and Myreon Jones with 13.
Ohio State will present a challenge to the Gators if E.J. Liddell and Justin Ahrens can stay hot. Liddell scored 28 points while Ahrens, the 3-point specialist, made 5 of 8 beyond the arc en route to 17 points to the consternation of Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard.
“The one thing we said is, ‘Don’t let Justin beat us. Don’t let (No.) 10 shoot,'” Willard said. “You can try to do whatever you want with Liddell; he’s going to get his, but you can’t let a guy like (Ahrens) dictate the game.”
More impressive to Holtmann’s is that his young players came through again in the clutch. It’s the freshman Johnson beating Seton Hall and it’s freshman Malaki Branham feeding sophomore Zed Key for the buzzer-beater to defeat Akron in the season opener.
“It’s amazing in two of our first five games to have been keyed by freshmen to the last possession,” Holtmann said. “That’s a first for me.”
Florida and Ohio State have met 13 times, with the Buckeyes leading the series 8-5. The most recent meeting was in the second round of the NIT in March 2016, won by the Gators 74-66.
The most famous matchup was the 2007 NCAA championship game when Florida pulled out an 84-75 win.
–Field Level Media