NICEVILLE, FLA. — Guards Bruce Thornton and Roddy Gayle Jr., exploded for career highs of 29 and 23 points, respectively, as Ohio State handed No. 15 ranked Alabama its first loss of the season with a 92-81 victory in the semifinal round of the Emerald Coast Classic Friday night at Raider Arena on the campus of Northwest Florida State College.
Ohio State advanced into Saturday’s championship game and will face the winner of the Oregon vs. Santa Clara game contested late Friday night.
The Buckeyes, who entered the game averaging 73.5 points, shot a season-high 54 percent from the floor (27-50) while setting season highs in scoring and tying a season high with 10 three-point baskets.
Meanwhile, Alabama which entered the game leading the NCAA in scoring offense (101.8 ppg) having scored more than 100 points in three off its first four games, shot below 50 percent from the floor for the first time this season hitting 46.4 percent (26-56)
Forward Grant Nelson led Alabama (4-1) with 20 points and a team-high six rebounds, while blocking three shots.
Thornton, who made four of six shots beyond the three-point arc, scored 15 points in the second half.
Thornton made consecutive three-point baskets 19 seconds apart during a 10-0 run that gave the Buckeyes their biggest lead, 71-56 with 8:10 remaining. Alabama never seriously threatened after that.
Gayle, who made eight of 11 shots from the floor, tallied 15 points in the second half.
There were six ties and five lead changes in the first half before the Buckeyes grabbed the lead for good on a layup by Gayle at 31-29 with 3:19 left in the first period.
The Buckeyes scored the last five points of the first half to enjoy a 38-33 advantage marking the first time Alabama had trailed at halftime this season.
Ohio State also became the first team to out rebound Alabama in a game this season, owning a 32-24 advantage on the boards with center Felix Okra grabbing a game-high 10 rebounds.
A three-point basket from reserve Dale Bonner gave the Buckeyes a 59-48 lead with 12:30 left in the game. Alabama was only able to whittle the deficit down to five points on a basket by guard Aaron Estrad at 61-56.
The Buckeyes sealed the victory by scoring 20 of their final 22 points at the free throw line.
Alabama finished nine of 30 (30 percent) from 3-point range, its worst percentage of the season, while Ohio State shot an efficient 10 of 18 (55.6 percent) from behind the arc.