In one of the weirdest games in recent Buckeye history, the No. 3 Houston Cougars ended the No. 11 Ohio State Buckeyes’ season with a 74-59 win in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday night. With the victory, the Cougars will advance to the Sweet 16 next weekend.
Ohio State’s traditional script was completely flipped in the game as the Bucks hits six of their first nine attempts from beyond the arc, while Kaleb Wesson didn’t attempt a shot from the paint until well into the second half. Every time the Buckeyes got the ball inside, the Cougars’ suffocating defense would bring a double-team immediately, often causing a turnover.
The Buckeyes were kept in the game — especially in the first half — by lights-out shooting from senior guard C.J. Jackson, who in the first half of the game, recorded his 1,000th career point, becoming the 58th player in program history to cross the prestigious threshold. He finished the game, and his collegiate career, leading the Buckeyes in scoring with 18.
With the loss, Ohio State’s season has now officially ended. Despite the disappointing outcome, there is no doubt that head coach Chris Holtmann got his team further than their talent and depth likely should have allowed. With 20 wins — and victories in both the Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Tournament — a season that was meant to be a transitional one for the program, turned out to be a testament to the power of hard work, consistent coaching, and program buy-in.
It also serves as a warning to teams in the Big Ten and nationally; if Holtmann can get this much out of a thinly talented roster with little to no depth, imagine what he will be able to do once he gets his own highly touted recruits into the fold.
As the game opened, the Buckeyes tried to get the ball into Kaleb Wesson on the first two possessions, but ended up turning the ball over on both. Then on the third possession, the ball finally got to the OSU big man, but the quick double-team lead to him just turning it over himself.
Houston’s elite athleticism made the most of those takeaways as they led 9-5 at the first media timeout, with seven of their points coming off of turnovers. Out of the break, the Buckeyes again found the younger Wesson brother on the next two possessions, but instead of down on the block, the big man connected for a pair of three-pointers. Unfortunately, on the subsequent possession, he turned it over again; his third in the first six minutes of the game.
In addition to the Cougars’ points off of turnovers, the OSU sloppiness was having other significant ramifications, as through the first eight minutes of game time, Houston had twice as many field goal attempts as Ohio State. UH had 16, while OSU had eight. The shot disparity was additionally problematic for the Buckeyes, considering that they were shooting incredibly well, but weren’t able to distance themselves from the Cougs.
When Holtmann’s team took a 21-19 lead with 10:25 remaining before halftime, Buckeye shooters had hit 8-of-12 attempts (66.7%), including an astounding 5-of-8 (62.5%) from beyond the arc.
As he did on Friday night against Iowa State, Kaleb Wesson picked up his second foul with nearly six minutes to go before halftime. At the time, the Cougs led by five, and would eventually get the advantage to nine, as OSU’s unconscious three-point shooting started to chill.
At the intermission, Houston led 39-31, as their defensive intensity stifled the Buckeyes and limited them to a single bucket in the paint. Thanks to the Cougs’ athleticism allowing them to get to the basket, UH led 20-2 in terms of points in the paint halfway through the contest.
After hitting an unsustainable rate from downtown to start the game, OSU connected on only two of their final eight attempts from distance in the first 20 minutes. Of the Buckeyes’ 11 buckets in the first half, only three were from inside the three-point arc; not the type of gameplan that OSU has used throughout the season.
While the hot shooting from downtown isn’t typical for Holtmann’s squad, their eight first-half turnovers were an uncomfortable reminder of their rough start to the 2019 calendar year. While they would some what get it in control after halftime (giving it up only six times in the second half), the ball handling and play-making deficiencies that had plagued the team all season were on display against Houston’s aggressive guards.
The second half opened with UH struggling to score, making just one of their first eight attempts in the half before the under-16 media timeout. However, OSU was unable to capitalize as a pair of turnovers limited them to just four attempts from the field, hitting two. However, it did allow them to make up a little ground, cutting the Houston lead to 41-35.
As the game progressed, it became even more frustratingly difficult to get the ball into Kaleb Wesson in the post. It seemed that every time OSU attempted an entry pass — be it of the lob or bounce variety — there was a Houston defender there to either deflect or intercept it. It wasn’t until 14:52 remaining in the second half that the younger Wesson actually had his first field goal attempt from inside the paint; he was fouled, splitting the free throws, so it technically doesn’t count on the stat sheet.
The first six and a half minutes of the second half were an ugly display of basketball with the teams combining to hit just four of their 16 shots. They also totaled four turnovers and four fouls (including technicals called on Keyshawn Woods and DeJon Jarreau as the teams were going to halftime).
However, at that point, the Buckeyes started finding a bit of the NBA Jam level shooting that propelled them in the first half. On three of four possessions, OSU connected from downtown; Luther Muhammad had one and Jackson had the other two. Unfortunately for the team in scarlet and gray, it wasn’t sustainable.
In the final quarter of the game, the Buckeyes would do most of their damage from the free throw line, because with 10:06 to go in regulation, they were in the bonus, as Houston’s fouls started to mount. The Cougars’ 10th foul put OSU in the double-bonus with 8:09 remaining.
Fortunately for Ohio State, they had the opportunity to score at the charity stripe, because they weren’t scoring anywhere else; Holtmann’s squad went 8:27 of game time without a field goal. In that span, they connected on nine freebies, including six from Kaleb Wesson.
While the Buckeyes continued to fight, they could never get enough momentum from the field or the line to overcome the Cougars’ lead. They ended the game shooting just 38.8 percent (19-49) form the field, including 10-29 (34.5%) from deep.
Houston on the other hand was 26-56 (46.4%) — 5-of-19 (26.3%) from distance. However, it was the the turnovers and points in the paint disparity that did the Buckeyes in. OSU coughed the ball up 14 times, while Houston only did so six times.
The athletic Cougar guards also sliced through the Buckeye defense contributing to 34 points in the paint. Even though Kaleb Wesson finished with 15 points, his OSU team only had 12 in the lane.
No. 3 Houston will take on No. 2 Kentucky in the Sweet 16 next Friday at approximately 9:59 p.m. ET in Kansas City.