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The Fastbreak: 4 thoughts from Ohio State’s battle with Houston in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament

In Tulsa, the Buckeyes’ season came to an end.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Houston vs Ohio State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

For every beginning, there is an end. The 2018-19 Ohio State Buckeyes men’s basketball team found their end at the BOK Center in Tulsa, where the three-point shot abandoned them in the second half — and was a key factor in the Houston Cougars securing a 15-point victory.

If there’s a cruel part to the NCAA Tournament, it’s this: for the seniors and guys leaving early, a loss in the Big Dance signifies an end to their college careers. C.J. Jackson, Keyshawn Woods and Joey Lane played their last game as Buckeyes on Sunday night, and the emotion seen after the game showed the reality that, yes, this is the last time they’ll be able to play in a college game wearing scarlet and gray.

Even though this squad overachieved—making the tournament a year after losing the Big Ten Player of the Year in Keita Bates-Diop—it’s never fun to watch the journey come to a thudding conclusion. The Bucks stuck close to the Cougars, but depth and, probably, anger from losing on a last-second shot last year in the Second Round propelled the Houston program to their first Sweet 16 since the Phi Slama Jama era of the 1980s.

Here’s four thoughts from Ohio State’s season finale.


Wild start

In the early going, it was the best of times and the worst of times for the Buckeyes. Starting with the bad: turnovers. This has been a consistent theme on the year, and comes up when the Buckeyes need it least.

To begin this game, OSU had five quick turnovers in the first six minutes of action. Musa Jallow, Kaleb Wesson were the guilty parties, but the Houston defense clamped down; all five of those TOs were marked as steals in the box score. The Cougars anticipated passes and disrupted the movement down by Kaleb—creating this very bad start for the Bucks.

When the final whistle sounded, 14 turnovers were tallied by OSU, compared to six by Houston. Galen Robinson Jr. was a major factor against the Bucks, as he recorded six steals. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the Ohio State defense played well after coughing the ball up. Houston had a 13-7 advantage in the ‘points off turnovers’ category, and it could’ve been even more of a runaway game if the Bucks couldn’t contest shots.

On the same note, this game could’ve gotten out of hand if it wasn’t for the hot-hand OSU had from downtown in the first half. The Buckeyes average 7.5 three-point makes a game this season; they had eight in the first 20 minutes. Jackson, who had a less than stellar First Round game against Iowa State, connected on a trio of threes in the first half en route to a team-leading 11 points in the half.

Unfortunately, the hot-hand is a fallacy. And you always, always regress back to the mean sooner or later. OSU went 2-of-12 from downtown in the second half, with Jackson going 1-of-5. Of the six Buckeyes that took a shot from distance, none made more than one three-point attempt in the final half.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Houston vs Ohio State
Mr. 1000: In his final game, Jackson eclipsed the 1,000-point mark, becoming the 58th Buckeye to do that
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

When you’re in these single elimination kind of games, a combo of turnovers and cold stretches from the field will sink you. And that’s exactly what happened to the Buckeyes. It’s not the finale they were searching for, but, realistically, this team overachieved. Guys like Jackson and Keyshawn Woods were crucial players in getting this far in the tournament. Jackson ended his OSU career with a team-leading 18 points, while Woods ended with a team-leading four assists. Without these two doing what they’ve done, this team would’ve been NIT bound. Instead, their efforts over February and March got OSU an upset win against ISU, and a strong fight for most of the game against Houston.


Paint Points

Houston annihilated Ohio State down low for points. In the first half, they had 20, and by the end of the game, they had 34. From the get-go, the Cougars made it a mission to work the ball close to the basket. Of their first nine points, six of them came in the paint courtesy of layups.

When Houston moved the ball around, that’s where they found quality looks for two. Especially when Kyle Young subbed in for Kaleb Wesson, the Cougars had chances to balloon their lead. However, the Bucks managed to hold it together, and kept the score within a few possession until the final 12 minutes of the game.

Normally, OSU’s inside presence on offensive comes from Kaleb. However, the double-team implored by Houston forced the Buckeyes to be out-of-character, and become a three-point shooting team. In the second half, Kaleb got his first made field goal (a layup) with 3:27 left in regulation. The Cougars fundamentally changed the Buckeyes, and the paint points are ‘Exhibit A.’

Even though the younger Wesson scored 15 and rebounded five, there needed to be more inside points. The hot-hand from three-point range cooled drastically in the second half, and when that happened, the Cougar faithful could begin to pencil in their transportation to Kansas City for the Sweet 16.


Live by the Three, Die by the Three

Going back to a previous point (re: three-point shooting), I have a question. If the strategy was to shoot threes, why wasn’t Justin Ahrens out there? Ahrens played in the final minute once the game was out of hand, but if everyone else was laying down brinks, what’s the worst that could’ve happened if he got two/three minutes worth of playing time in the middle part of the second half?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Houston vs Ohio State
Leading the Charge: Corey Davis Jr. led all players with 21 points, and hit three of Houston’s five three-pointers against Ohio State
Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

I do agree that key guys needed to see the floor (Jackson, K. Wesson, Woods) but OSU spent the final 11:44 of the game outside of a five-point deficit. That’s right around where the game started to slip away. I feel like some momentum needed to be found, and Ahrens has shown us this season that he can supply it. He did it against Maryland and Iowa—two teams that made the tournament.

In hindsight, going to Ahrens looks good now since the Bucks lost by 15. And I get why Chris Holtmann didn’t call for the freshman. Just speculating here: If Jackson hits a circus shot, which he’s done multiple times this season, then you have your momentum right then and there. However, that shot never happened. That’s why the three-point shot is one of the most dastardly in the game; it either helps win the game for you, or sinks your chances.


It’s (almost) chalk all the way down

Fourteen of the top 16 teams are left in the tournament. In three of the regions, the top four seeds are still there. Oregon and Auburn are the only “outsider” remaining, but while the Ducks are a legit Cinderella as a No. 12 seed, the Tigers are No. 5 seed, so they are as close to chalk as you can get.

But, if I’m being honest, Dana Altman has guided the Ducks to three Sweet 16 appearances in four seasons — so I’m not calling them a Cinderella.

The Big Ten has three teams left (Purdue, Michigan State and Michigan), and all three of them have real potential to be in the Final Four. Those three have been the crème de la crème of the conference, and are showing the rest of the college basketball world what they can do in head-to-head competition.

For the underclassmen at OSU, playing those caliber teams this season, I think, will pay dividends. The Wessons, Ahrens, Jallow, Luther Muhammad and Duane Washington Jr. will be the key figures next season. Coupled with an star-studded recruiting class in 2019, next season could be a Final Four run for Holtmann and the squad.

With Atlanta being the Final Four site, I’m feeling a little superstitious about the Bucks making it that far. In 2007, Ohio State reached the championship game, which was held at the Georgia Dome; and in 2013, they were one win away from making a Final Four appearance—also at the Georgia Dome.