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AJ Clayton (23) forward on Ohio University's Men's Basketball team, jumps up for the tip off at The Convo, in Athens, Dec. 2, 2023.

Men's Basketball: Ohio survives at the buzzer to defeat Delaware 74-73

Ohio (5-2) was missing its coach and any offensive production at halftime against Delaware. However, by the end of the game, Ohio completed an impressive double-digit comeback to defeat Delaware (5-3) 74-73.

Ohio had several reasons for its lowest-scoring half of the season against Delaware. The team shot just 31% from the field in the first half including just 2 of 10 from three. The team started the game with a solid 2 of 5 from three after Ike Cornish connected on a 3-point jumper to make the score 22-20 in favor of Delaware. However, Ohio finished the half 0 of 5 from three which contributed to the team's scoring drought of 3:05.

Ohio didn't just struggle shooting from the field but also from the free-throw line. Ohio converted only 4/10 free throws in the first half; the team's six free throw misses included two misses on the front ends of one-and-one attempts.

Despite the offensive woes, Ohio's defense played well enough to keep the team behind just 8 points at halftime, trailing 36-28.

In the second half, the Bobcats came out with a different intensity. AJ Clayton and Jaylin Hunter combined to score 8 of the team's first 9 points in under 3 1/2 minutes. According to Ohio guard Elmore James, the key to Ohio's second-half improvements was a different mindset.

"We always go into the locker room and say '20 more minutes,'" James said. "We got 20 more minutes and a new opportunity to try to win the game. So we all came up with a new mindset and we executed our game plan."

Ohio momentarily cut the deficit to 5 until Delaware had its own offensive improvements. The Blue Hens went on a 10-4 run led by two consecutive 3-point baskets.

Needing a source of offensive production, James scored 7 straight points to bring Delaware's 11-point lead back to just 6.

Ohio kept hanging around Delaware's lead, using key minutes from forward Aidan Hadaway, who scored 5 points in under 3 minutes. Ohio was able to get as close to Delaware's lead as it had gotten in the second half with back-to-back layups from Jaylin Hunter. Jyare Davis pushed the Blue Hens' lead to 6 with a contested 2-point jumper, but AJ Clayton responded with a 3-point jumper on Ohio's next offensive possession.

Ohio's defense held Delaware off the scoreboard for a minute and a half and in that time Ohio tied the game for the first time in the second half. Shereef Mitchell created space with a spin move to convert an easy layup while James made 1 of 2 free throws to tie the game at 68.

Ohio and Delaware traded scores on the next two possessions to keep the game tied with 2 minutes to go. Coming out of a timeout, Delaware's Davis made a 3-point jumper as the shot clock expired to put Delaware back on top 73-70.

James kept Ohio close with a layup on the next possession, which Clayton followed up with a block to help Ohio get a crucial stop. Hunter finally gave Ohio its first lead of the second half with another downhill drive leading to a converted layup.

Davis couldn't connect on a go-ahead jump shot and a team effort from Ohio led to James coming down with his fifth and most important rebound of the game. James impacted the game in an assortment of different ways. He finished the game with a team-high 21 points in addition to his five rebounds.

"His plays were electric," Ohio Assistant Coach Lamar Thornton said. "He did a great job in the second half of (saying) 'You know what, I'm just going to drive it. I'm going to go right to the chin and I'm going to make some tough plays.'"

Thornton was forced to step into the head coaching role because Ohio Coach Jeff Boals was unable to be on the sidelines due to COVID-19 protocols. 

James was quickly fouled with 7 seconds to go, but he failed to convert his free throw, leaving the Blue Hens with one last chance to win the game.

Delaware raced down the court and Ohio's aggression to stop the basketball led to a wide-open 3-point look for Cavan Reilly. Reilly's 3 bounced harmlessly off the rim to give Ohio its third-straight and fifth win of the season.

The last play of the game was an emotional roller coaster for Ohio, but one James was happy to come out on top of.

"We knew we had to get back with a lot of urgency, especially that late in the game with 7 seconds left," James said. "I tried to stop the ball as fast as I could and we saw the shooter wide open, but luckily he missed ... We rally together no matter what and we were able to get that win."


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