The Ohio State basketball team fell to 11-seed Penn State in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament despite leading by double digits in the second half. Even without Zed Key and Kyle Young, Ohio State was expected to advance before losing 71-68 to one of the lesser programs in the conference. It was a fourth blemish in the last five games and yet another blown lead to an inferior opponent as the Buckeyes head into the NCAA Tournament.
Here are a few postgame takeaways from the loss.
Shot creation continues to be a concern
The offense completely shut down in the second half as Penn State went on a 14-3 run to get back into it. Ohio State stopped getting good shots and were forcing the ball into the post even when double teams were constantly rotating over. It’s difficult to criticize EJ Liddell because he has to carry an overwhelming amount of the scoring load but he contributed to the collapse as well.
Liddell scored a game-high 25 points on 6/14 shooting from the field and was one of the few bright spots for the Buckeyes. The junior forward made a couple mistakes down the stretch but he’s tasked with doing so much because this roster doesn’t have a lot of shot creators around him.
Jamari Wheeler went 2/7 from 3-point range and had just two assists against his former team, while Justin Aherns had zero points in 14 minutes. The ball movement and offensive flow simply has to improve.
Malaki Branham finished with 16 points and four rebounds in a solid showing.
Chris Holtmann can’t keep losing like this in March
It’s frustrating enough to limp to the regular-season finish line but if Ohio State loses in their first game of the Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Tournament then some could think Holtmann hit his ceiling. I don’t necessarily think that’s true but the only way to prove that is winning multiple games this month. That’s hard to imagine when the Buckeyes just lost to Penn State, who sits at 14-16.
Not only were the Nittany Lions 5.5-point underdogs prior to tip-off but according to ESPN, the Buckeyes had a 92.9% chance to win with just over 10 minutes remaining. There’s no way that Penn State should have been able to climb back into the game but Ohio State has made a habit of doing so recently. If Holtmann ca n’t get this team to execute, hold onto leads and play consistently into the postseason then his doubters will only grow louder.
The defense is a shell of itself without big men
Ohio State’s defense isn’t great when fully healthy but it’s at least passable. When you take away Key’s strength and rim protection, and Young’s energy and versatility, then the Buckeyes’ defense takes a noticeable step back which left the door open for Penn State to come back. After leading 33-24 at halftime, Ohio State was outscored 47-35 in the second half.
The Ohio State basketball team seemed to be in control for the majority of the game and led by as much as 13 points before missing. Penn State started to search for the open man and swing the ball with purpose in the second half which led to a number of clean looks. The Nittany Lions shot 61.5% from the field following halftime as senior guard Sam Sessoms scored a team-high 18 points off the bench. Jalen Pickett totaled 16 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
The Buckeyes will get a chance to regroup between now and Selection Sunday, when the team will find out just how far they have fallen in the committee’s view. OSU is projected to be a 6-seed per Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology but there are still a lot of games prior to the reveal so things could slightly change. Unless the team can begin to adjust defensively and create higher quality shots then I don’t see this Ohio State basketball team making much of a run.
We’ll see if Holtmann can turn it around in the next week or so.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism