COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Basketball is back. Finally.
Tipping off at 3 p.m. at Nationwide Arena, The Basketball Tournament's opening game featured a lion's share of Central Ohio basketball alums - no pun intended.
With three Gahanna Lion alums on the floor for No. 9 Big X on Saturday, the collection of former Big Ten players relied on 2016 GLHS graduate Nick Ward's 18 points to shake off a sluggish start and survive No. 24 D2, 79-74.
Despite trailing 23-11 after a quarter of play, Big X awoke in the middle quarters, outscoring D2 46-36. The play of 2011 Gahanna alum Jamel Morris off the bench, coupled with key contributions from 2014 Gahanna alum Javon Bess and 2015 Delaware Hayes alum Khalil Iverson helped Big X take control of the game in the fourth quarter.
A pair of dunks from Ward helped Big X take a valuable 70-69 lead just before the four minute mark, which is crucial considering the TBT uses the innovative Elam Ending to determine its winner.
With the clock stopping and Big X leading 70-69 with 3:41 remaining, the hometown alum squad would need to beat D2 to the 78-point mark to go home with the win.
After Trevon Hughes knocked down a three to take a 75-71 lead, Bess forced a steal and was fouled on the other end, knocking down both free throws to come within a point of the victory.
Former Ohio State point guard CJ Jackson struck back moments later, as his offensive rebound and ensuing close range floater struck the bottom of the net, sending Big X into the Round of 16 victorious, 79-74.
Ward led all Big X scorers with 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Without a real matchup on the interior, D2 struggled to contain the 6-foot-9 Ward, as the former Michigan State post had his way on the block all game long despite a dismal 4-of-10 free-throw shooting afternoon.
Bess was the only other Big X player in double figures with 11 points on a perfect shooting performance. The former Michigan State and Saint Louis standout went 4-of-4 from the field and 3-of-3 from the line, adding six rebounds, three assists and a steal.
Morris was a key piece off the bench, as the former Division II star at Glenville State and Fairmont State pitched in nine important points, adding six rebounds and three assists. With the shooting threat and steady ball handling of Morris on the perimeter, Big X seemed to get into an offensive rhythm in the second quarter after a porous opening period.
Outside of Hughes, Iverson had the best +/- rating on the team at 7, as the former Wisconsin high wire act finished with seven points and a game-high 11 rebounds. The 6-foot-5 Iverson was his usual self on the glass, using his imposing frame and physicality, coupled with elite-level athleticism, to overpower D2.
Former Florida Southern standout and national champion Kevin Capers led all scorers with 25 points in the loss for D2. 2013 Reynoldsburg alum and Ashland standout Wendell Davis received the start and finished with seven points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals in a solid outing.
Big X will move on to face No. 8 Red Scare, a team made up of former Dayton alums on Wednesday at 2 p.m. at Nationwide Arena. Red Scare advanced to the Columbus regional finals last year, falling in a thriller to eventual champion Carmen's Crew.
Red Scare features former Northland alum Jalen Robinson, among a host of Dayton stars of yesterday.