NICEVILLE, Fla. (AP) Bruce Thornton scored a career-high 29 points, Roddy Gayle Jr. added a career-high 23, and Ohio State held back No. 17 Alabama's prolific offense to beat the Crimson Tide 92-81 on Friday in a semifinal of the Emerald Coast Classic.

Thornton made consecutive 3s 19 seconds apart during a 10-0 run that gave the Buckeyes (4-1) their biggest lead, 71-56 with 8:10 remaining. Alabama never seriously threatened after that.

Grant Nelson scored 20 points and Aaron Estrada added 19 for the Crimson Tide (4-1), who came in averaging 101.8 points, third-best in Division I, but struggled against Ohio State's physical, man-to-man defense.

Alabama finished 9 of 30 (30%) from 3-point range, its worst percentage of the season, while Ohio State shot an efficient 10 of 18 (55.6%) from behind the arc.

“Ohio State is tough. They exposed our weaknesses on defense,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said. “They had a good game plan and we have some work to do on defense.

“I would really like our guys to worry about how they are going to guard somebody and let the shots come to them. I think when you are so worried about scoring it, that backfires usually.”

Thornton was 4 of 6 on 3-pointers and 13 of 14 from the free-throw line. Gayle shot 8 of 11 from the field and 6 of 6 on free throws.

“They were phenomenal,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann of his sophomore guards. “They are growing right in front of our eyes.”

Thornton scored 14 first-half points as Ohio State led 38-33 at halftime. Alabama twice got within three points early in the second half but did not get closer in the first meeting between the teams in 21 years.

“I think what has helped us is we have gotten a little better switching (on defense) across the board,” Holtmann said. “I thought our guys were locked in.”


Ohio State: The Buckeyes played their most complete game of the season and got a signature win. They lost to Texas A&M in their only previous game against a ranked opponent.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide, who came in averaging 48.9% on 3-pointers, couldn't bail themselves out from beyond the arc in their first matchup with a Power Five foe.


Led by Thornton, the Buckeyes were 28 of 30 from the free-throw line.

“We take free throws very seriously,” Thornton said. “We made free throws at clutch moments and it shows up on the stat sheet. At the end of the day that often separates whether you win or lose.”


The arena at Northwest Florida State College has a capacity of 2,196, and Ohio State fans appeared to make up more than half of those in attendance.

“We had an unbelievable crowd, unbelievable,” Holtmann said. “We looked at this, OK, Alabama is a drive away and is this going to feel like a road environment? And it didn’t. If anything, we might have had an advantage.”


Ohio State will face either Oregon or Santa Clara in Saturday's championship game while Alabama plays for third place.


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