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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A couple weeks ago, Ohio State might have lost to UNC Asheville, but on Thursday night the Buckeyes closed the game out because of a level of play that coach Thad Matta said he has been searching for from JaQuan Lyle since practice opened on Oct. 1.
Down 69-67 with 2:51 remaining, Lyle scored eight of his 17 points on consecutive possessions down the stretch to take a 75-71 lead. Jae'Sean Tate also had 17 points and Kam Williams made two free throws with four seconds left to ice the Buckeyes' 79-77 win over UNC Asheville.
Trevor Thompson had his fourth double-double of the season with 14 points and 10 rebounds for Ohio State (10-3).
Lyle had chances earlier this season late in games, most notably at then-No. 6 Virginia where he missed a last-second 3-pointer that would have won the game. He said nothing felt different against the Bulldogs, the shots were just falling this time.
"It was good to see," Matta said. "Those were some big shots. (Asheville) really went small down the stretch there and getting inside the paint was a good thing for us."
MaCio Teague scored 23 points for Asheville (8-5) and Raekwon Miller added 15.
Thompson committed a technical foul with 4:25 remaining, allowing Asheville to convert two free throws and the front end of a one-and-one and cap a 15-3 run to take its first lead at 67-65. Teague sank an off-balance layup to put Asheville on top once again at 69-67 before Lyle's eight straight.
Alec Wnuk made his second 3 of the game, and only his third of the season, with 5.1 seconds left, making the score 77-75 but Williams ensured the win with two free throws.
A 10-0 run early in the second half had extended Ohio State's lead to 46-35. But Columbus native Kevin Vannatta scored five straight points for the Bulldogs with under six minutes remaining to tie the game at 64.
Tate said that Asheville was the hardest-working team Ohio State has faced this season. Although undersized, the Bulldogs hung around with the Buckeyes by winning 50-50 balls, shooting 11 of 24 from 3-point range and disrupting OSU's half-court offense with a 1-3-1 zone press defense.
"(The 1-3-1) has been a staple of ours for a couple of years," said Asheville coach Nick McDevitt. "You have to keep teams like this — really all teams — off-balanced. By changing defenses . we try to keep them out of an offensive rhythm."
Ohio State shot 55 percent to Asheville's 44 percent.
UNC Asheville: Teague continues to shine in his freshman season. The Cincinnati native, who averaged 26.4 points per game last year in high school, now ranks second on the team with 14.3 points per game.
Ohio State: Still a difficult team to figure out. Following a 77-40 win over Youngstown State, Matta's team showed periods of fast-paced offensive execution mixed with several moments with a lack of focus and confusion on both ends of the court. Now finished with nonconference play, OSU will need to find an identity to avoid falling behind in the Big Ten.
"Coming off of last game, I don't think we played at the same level," Tate said. "Down the stretch, we just got to work on handling adversity. We got to handle tough moments and just be mentally tougher."
UNC Asheville: Travels to play the Radford Highlanders in one week to open Big South Conference action.
Ohio State: Begins the Big Ten season on New Year's Day in Champaign, Illinois, against the Fighting Illini.
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