CHICAGO (AP) — Ohio State was locked in a tight game with UCLA when Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann made a small tweak to his approach against the Bruins.
Then everything changed.
C.J. Jackson scored 20 of his 22 points in the second half, and No. 15 Ohio State handed UCLA its third consecutive loss with an 80-66 victory Saturday.
The Buckeyes had some trouble against the Bruins’ 2-3 zone before Holtmann had Jackson play off the ball and put Keyshawn Woods in more of a playmaking role. Jackson went 6 for 11 from the field in the second half, and Woods finished with 10 assists and no turnovers.
Woods “might have been as instrumental as anything because he can see things in the zone,” Holtmann said. “He is really good at attacking zones, driving gaps and finding the right guys.”
Kaleb Wesson had 15 points and 12 rebounds for the Buckeyes (11-1), who have won five in a row since their only loss of the season last month against Syracuse and its famed zone defense. Kyle Young added 11 points and six boards.
Ohio State got its second win at the United Center this season in the opener of the CBS Sports Classic. The Buckeyes also beat Illinois 77-67 at the Chicago Bulls’ longtime home on Dec. 5.
The Big Ten tournament returns to the United Center in March.
“I think we have a long way to go,” Jackson said. “The coaches know we’re not at our best and like I said, December is not when you want to be at your best.”
Kris Wilkes had 18 points and seven rebounds for UCLA (7-5), which was coming off consecutive losses to Belmont and Cincinnati. Jaylen Hands had 13 points and nine assists, and Cody Riley finished with 10 points.
The Bruins were hurt by a 41-34 rebounding deficit fueled by 15 offensive rebounds for the Buckeyes.
“I thought everything that we were doing in our zone was pretty good,” coach Steve Alford said. “We obviously had some breakdowns, but most of the breakdowns in the zone tonight were off the backboard.”
The Buckeyes started to find some holes in the Bruins’ defense in the second half. After Prince Ali’s layup got UCLA within one with 18:35 left, Ohio State responded with an 8-0 run.
Andre Wesson, Kaleb’s brother, began the decisive stretch with a free throw and closed it out with a 3-pointer that made it 43-34 with 16:33 to go. Woods and Young also scored during the spurt.
UCLA pulled within four on three occasions over the next couple minutes, but it was too inconsistent offensively to catch Ohio State. The Buckeyes then put the Bruins away with an 11-1 run that included an impressive alley-oop dunk by Young off a pass from Woods from mid-court.
TURNING IT OVER
UCLA committed 12 of its 15 turnovers in the first half, losing an opportunity to grab control while Ohio State struggled with its shot.
“Honestly I think we just got too excited,” Wilkes said. “We got the ball; we got careless. We got real happy. We got in the post a couple times and turned it over. I know I brought it to the rim a couple times and brought it low and turned it over.”
Ohio State: Kaleb Wesson is turning into quite a force. The 6-foot-9, 270-pound sophomore scored a career-high 31 points in Tuesday’s 75-56 victory over Youngstown State.
UCLA: Alford started one upperclassman against the experienced Buckeyes. He is hoping his youthful group will learn from the team’s losing streak and find its stride in Pac-12 play. “We did see some progression today and hopefully we can build on it,” he said.
Ohio State is off for the next week before hosting High Point next Saturday in its final nonconference game.
UCLA hosts Liberty next Saturday in its last nonconference matchup.
Jay Cohen can be reached at https://twitter.com/jcohenap
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