BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Ohio State has often had problems with the last minutes of halves this season.
Saturday night in the Assembly Hall took it to a whole new level. After questioning all but the sink after a decisive loss on the road to Illinois on Tuesday night, the Buckeyes opened their only encounter against the Hoosiers by putting their best foot forward. They attacked the glass. They pushed the ball into transition. They brought all the “stuff” needed to compete in one of the Big Ten’s most feared arenas.
Then it all disappeared abruptly. After drawing within 31-30 with 5:05 left to play, Ohio State stumbled into the locker room after giving up a 15-0 run that effectively cemented the final result in what became an 86-70 loss.
Thus, a game that had been nip-and-tuck for 15 minutes turned into a comfortable victory for the Hoosiers.
“We have to look at those five minutes and figure out what we need to do better,” said coach Chris Holtmann. “I thought our shot selection wasn’t great. It fueled part of their transition. I felt we didn’t have a good performance on either side in the last five minutes.”
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Trailing by one point, the Buckeyes had three chances to tie the game or take the lead, but came up empty. The last chance was a pair of missed free throws from freshman center Felix Okpara with 3:56 left.
Indiana then countered by hitting seven of the final eight shots, scoring on eight consecutive possessions to end the half. In response, the Buckeyes got a pair of misses from Sean McNeil, a miss from Brice Sensabaugh, a shot from Zed Key blocked by Trayce Jackson-Davis, a missed three-pointer from Justice Sueing, and a turnover from Roddy Gayle.
“The run at the end of the half hurt us in the long run,” said Key. “We cannot give up so many consecutive points. It starts on the defensive side and the shots didn’t fall, so that doesn’t help.”
Holtmann called a timeout with 2:34 left to try and turn the tide, as a Jackson-Davis left-handed slam dunk made it 37-30. Sensabaugh and Key both came empty on the next possession, and Jackson-Davis built on his block by hitting a left-handed hook over Key to resume the run. The Indiana forward had six straight runs leading up and collected his own miss on the next possession to make it 42-30.
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“I certainly tried to turn the tide there with the time-out,” said Holtmann. “Maybe I could have even doubled there (with another one) at the last minute.”
Instead, the Hoosiers were able to keep the Buckeyes at bay for the duration. Ohio State trailed by double digits throughout the second half, coming no closer than 11 points.
Both teams scored 40 points after the break.
“It was tough,” said McNeil. “If you give up a run like that on the road, we played them pretty evenly in the second half, but when we conceded that substantial number of points in that short amount of time, it went from six to 16. We even played them in the second “Given way too many points. Cleaned up some things on the defensive side. Keep working on the things we are working on and get better.”
Adding to the problem: Ohio State spent the last 3:56 in the double bonus, but only had Okpara’s two missed free throws to show.
“Some of our bad offensive possessions led to a transition,” Holtmann said. “That’s the bottom line. We really weren’t playing intentionally enough to get on the line at that point. They were in the double bonus. We missed some free throws, but settled for too many jumpers. That was not good on our part.”
The Buckeyes have now lost seven of their last eight games, reaching the middle of Big Ten play with a 3-7 record. It is their longest streak since the 1997–98 team lost 17 games in a row to close out the season.
“Stripes like these will eventually pop,” McNeil said. “It only takes one game. In practice, we are really making strides. We had two much better practices leading up to this game than in the previous game. It’s just over the hump. We’ll keep practicing hard and eventually things fall into place.”
Gene Brown, Tanner Holden playing late while Brice Sensabaugh sits
After needing to understand what went wrong in Illinois over the past few days, Holtmann went to the starting lineup he used for six games in a row before Key suffered a sore left shoulder in the opening minutes against Purdue.
It wasn’t the only change in rotation. After being an unused substitute in Illinois, third year wing Gene Brown came in with 17:41 left in the game and Indiana leading 50-37. He replaced Justice Sueing, who had just fouled Race Thompson for a three-point play.
While Brown has seen intermittent playing time this season, Wright State transfer Tanner Holden played a 5:17 off-season off the bench and only got into action when he came on with 5:17 to play.
“We’re trying to find a rotation that might be a little bit shorter this time of year,” Holtmann said. “Both guys have done good things. I thought Gene played really hard in the second half.”
Leading scorer Brice Sensabaugh, who finished with 23 points on 9 of 17 shots, sat for the final 7:20. He left after the under-8 timeout with an Indiana lead of 70-55. He has now led the Buckeyes in scoring in 12 straight games.
Holtmann said he wasn’t trying to send a message to Sensabaugh by sitting him down.
“Brice has done good things,” he said. “We try to give some other guys some playing time. I just got questions about Tanner and Gene. Then we say we’re Brice. We can’t play them all. We try to give those guys playing time at those times and that’s what happens.”
Chris Holtmann called a technical foul
For the first time this season, the Ohio State coach was called for a technical foul.
It came down to 7:50 in the first half and the Buckeyes trailed 23–21 after Ohio State’s Roddy Gayle was called for a foul on Kaleb Banks when he scored in the paint. On the earlier possession, Ohio State’s Bruce Thornton had not earned a call for a similar play, and Holtmann was furiously sidelined.
“That was exactly my point: I thought it was the exact same call,” Holtmann said. “I didn’t like the call on (Gayle) to begin with and I thought the exact same thing happened on the other side and they missed it. I thought it was really inconsistent. I let Rob (Riley) know that.”
The technical solution helped the Hoosiers to a six-point possession. In addition to the Banks bucket, Tamar Bates hit the two free throws awarded for the technique to make it a 25-21 Indiana lead. Banks then missed the free throw, but the rebound went out of the hands of Sensabaugh, who got ready to try and get the ball in, and out of bounds to keep possession at that end.
Malik Reneau then topped it off with a basket over Sueing to make it 27-21 with 7:38 left in the half.
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This article originally appeared in The Columbus Dispatch: Ohio State’s first-half collapse insurmountable in Indiana loss