Notre Dame had its first big win of the season almost wrapped up.
The Fighting Irish had a seemingly comfortable lead over No. 3 Ohio State with less than 2 minutes to play.
Instead of that signature win, Notre Dame wound up with a loss that could be hard to bounce back from, 64-61 on Saturday night in the BlackRock Gotham Classic at Madison Square Garden.
“I am so thoroughly disappointed,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “We had such a good chance at such a great win.”
Ohio State turned up the defensive intensity to close the game on a 14-3 run.
“I don’t really know what happened. It was a big blur,” Ohio State senior guard Aaron Craft said. “We never stopped. We never gave up. Guys were running around getting tips and guys made big free throws.”
While a few players did come up with big defensive plays, it was mostly one guy who made the free throws for the Buckeyes (12-0).
Lenzelle Smith Jr. scored seven of his nine points in the final 33 seconds — including going 5 of 5 at the line — to lead the rally.
“I’m still trying to figure out what happened,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “My mind was fixated on if we wanted to foul with the time situation or do we play it out defensively and all of a sudden it was closer and closer and closer and we get the lead. It happened quick, It was a great win.”
The Buckeyes went 9:10 without a field goal and at one point were 6 of 21 from the field as Notre Dame (8-4) opened up its lead.
Jerian Grant hit a 3-pointer as the shot clock was expiring to give the Fighting Irish a 58-50 advantage with 1:54 to play.
The Buckeyes converted consecutive steals into a 58-56 deficit with 40 seconds to go.
Demetrius Jackson made two free throws for Notre Dame a second later.
Smith was fouled taking a 3-pointer and he made all three free throws to bring Ohio State within 60-59 with 32 seconds left.
Steve Vasturia, who was in the game because point guard Eric Atkins had fouled out, missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 31 seconds left, his first free throw attempt of the season.
Smith scored down low on a nice pass by Craft to give the Buckeyes a 61-60 lead with 16 seconds to go. After a Notre Dame turnover, Smith made two free throws for a 63-60 lead with 9.8 seconds left.
Grant made one free throw with 6.7 seconds left and Craft made one free throw with 3.3 seconds left.
Jackson missed a potential tying 3 as the buzzer sounded.