On Saturday, the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes (17-4, 11-4) renewed their oldest men’s basketball rivalry by welcoming the Indiana Hoosiers (11-9, 6-7) to the Schottenstein Center for a game broadcast on ESPN. If the Buckeyes hope to maintain any chances of potentially winning the Big Ten regular season title, they will need to be nearly perfect down the stretch, and will need Michigan to lose at least once in the final three weeks of the season.
Well, one down, five to go, as Chris Holtmann’s Buckeyes boat-raced Archie Miller’s Hoosiers 78-59. With the win, OSU further solidifies its hold on one of the four No. 1 slots in next month’s NCAA Tournament. While the game was going on, Mitch Barnhart, the chair of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee, announced that if the tournament started today (which it doesn’t), the Buckeyes would be a No. 1 seed; joining top-seeded Gonzaga, Baylor, and the aforementioned Team Up North who finally gets back to action on Sunday against Wisconsin.
At the Schott on Saturday, Ohio State got out of the gate by going on a 19-0 run after trailing 6-2 in the game’s opening minutes. E.J. Liddell and Duane Washington Jr. led the way as the Buckeyes took a strong, early lead. However, it was the team’s defense that really spelled the difference during the run, and throughout the game.
However, as has been their wont as of late, the Hoosiers mounted a furious comeback to keep the game close into the mid-second half. After trailing 17-4 against Iowa on Feb. 7 (before winning by 2), and against Northwestern on Feb. 10 by a score of 21-7 (before winning by 3 in double-overtime), they visitors from Bloomington went down by double-digits early. Despite trailing by 16 at 31-15, IU closed the gap to as few as seven at one point, before Ohio State closed the first half up 10, 38-28.
After the intermission, we got more of the back-and-forth action that defined the second 10 minutes of the game. Six minutes into the second half, the Hoosiers had cut the Buckeyes’ lead to just five points at 45-40 following a 6-0 run.
But, it was the OSU defense that put the good guys back in the lead by double-digits for the duration of the afternoon. Following an impressive, defensively sound challenge and a quick outlet from Kyle Young to Washington — who laid it in — the Buckeyes applied an unexpected trap just across the timeline and IU’s Khristian Lander turned the ball over. Young stepped in front of a pass and, following the steal, triggered a fastbreak that resulted in a C.J. Walker layup putting Ohio State back up 14 at 54-40.
From there, the route was on. The Buckeyes continued to add to their advantage going up by 21 following a pair of free throws with just over eight minutes remaining in regulation.
Lidell led the Buckeyes in scoring with 19 points and 4 rebounds, he was followed closely by Justice Sueing who finished with 16 points and 10 boards. Washington also made his mark with 12, and Young and Walker finished with 10 and 8 respectively.
For the Hoosiers, Trayce Jackson-Davis put on an offensive show, finishing with 23 points on the afternoon.
Also, apropos of nothing, if you are a sentimental crier like I am, these pregame introductions from the families of OSU players might get you a bit emotional during this holiday weekend.
Now that you know the basic whos, whats, whens, and hows of the game, let’s get into some of the whys that led the Buckeyes to their sixth-straight win, and ninth in their last 10.
A 19 to Oh No Run
Two minutes and 40 seconds into the game, the Hoosiers led the Buckeyes by a score of 6-2. At the 10:50 mark in the first half, Ohio State led 21-6. For those of you that are mathematically challenged, that is a 19-0 run over an 8:10 span of game action. During that time two Buckeyes — whom I will type about more below — led the way for the home team.
Liddell went for eight and Washington had seven during that run to give OSU a dominant, double-digit lead that — while challenged — they would never relinquish. And while those high-volume scorers put the points on the board early on, the Buckeyes’ defense and rebounding set the stage. The Hoosiers coughed it up six times during their scoring drought, while OSU collected a half-dozen offensive rebounds.
Numerous times during the run, IU was forced to take less-than-desirable shots in order to avoid shot-clock violations. Though they are known as an offensive team, Holtmann’s squad was not going to let the Hoosiers have anything easy on Saturday.
E.J. Liddell had something to prove
In Monday’s game against Maryland, super-sophomore E.J. Liddell was held to his second-lowest point total of the season. The 6-foot-8 forward did not hit his first bucket until there was just 7:01 left in regulation against the Terps, and finished with just seven points on the night.
However, against Indiana, the Naismith Trophy candidate wasted no time, besting his Monday total just 8:02 into the game. Liddell connected on a pair of three-pointers to aid that 19-0 run to give the Bucks’ a sizable cushion in the early goings.
Liddell finished the first 20 minutes by doubling up his Monday total by wracking up 14 points in 18 minutes of action. Due to OSU’s large lead, Liddell didn’t play a ton in the second half, but he finished with 19 points on 6-of-12 (50%) shooting and reasserted himself as a dominant force in the B1G.
Duane Washington Jr. did too
Despite the fact that Liddell gets most of the pub for this OSU team, Duane Washington Jr. is on a pretty impressive run of his own as of late. The junior closed out January with three consecutive games in which he didn’t score in double-digits, and (more importantly) shot absolutely horrifically. Against Wisconsin, Penn State, and Michigan State, Washington was 5-for-30, meaning that he left that three-game skid shooting 16.7% from the field, and 0-for-10 from behind the arc.
There was a lot of chatter around the team that Washington was becoming a hinderance for the Buckeyes, and following the win against the Nits, he let people know that he heard them, and didn’t exactly appreciate it.
You either with me or you not. Simple. Great W with my brothers, on to the next #122 #GoBucks— Duane Washington Jr. (@dwizthekid4) January 28, 2021
Since the calendar flipped to February, following the win over the Spartans, Washington has been back to his play-making best. He went for 16 (including going 3-for-6 from deep) in a huge road win over Iowa, and then picked up Liddell’s slack against Maryland, accounting for 18 points.
On Saturday, the junior picked up 10 first-half points against IU and finished the game going 4-for-7 from the field, including 2-of-3 from beyond the arc, for their XX total points. Pretty strong showing.
Happy homecoming, Hunter
When Indiana lost to Illinois 75-71 earlier this month, sophomore, Pickerington-native Jerome Hunter did not play due to a coach’s decision. Following the game, Miller put the onus completely on his 6-foot-7 forward’s shoulders.
He said, “It’ll continue to be a coach’s decision as we continue to go through the next 33 days that we have left in the regular season. He has a chance to earn his way back on the floor. He practices every day, he lifts weights, he does everything, but he’s not gonna take the floor again until the coach feels like he’s in the right frame of mind to number one, lead himself the right way, and number two, has the bigger picture in mind in terms of protecting our team at all times.”
Hunter got back into the lineup this past Wednesday in IU’s double-OT victory over Northwestern, contributing 7 points and 5 rebounds. However, back home in Central Ohio, the Pickerington North graduate led the Hoosiers with nine points in just 11 first-half minutes on Saturday. The total tied his second-highest point total of the season, and remember, that was just in the first half.
But, that’s not really unusual for an Ohio State opponent, as our basketball expert Connor Lemons likes to point out regularly on the tweeter machine:
Hunter added one more point in the second half before picking up a pair of fouls on a single play with 8:51 left in the game. Not only did he foul Kyle Young coming across the lane, but he let the referees know that he was not pleased with the call and picked up a technical foul in addition to the common one.
That took his total on the game to four, and took him to the bench. Perhaps that has something to do why Miller benched him just a week-and-a-half ago.
Do you prefer apple or cherry turnovers?
Early in Saturday’s broadcast, the ESPN crew of Sean McDonough and Jay Bilas discussed the fact the Miller’s team has a goal of limiting turnovers to 10 or fewer per game. That seemed like a legit goal against the Buckeyes, as OSU has the worst defensive turnover rate in the Big Ten, and was 325th in the country coming into the day.
However, Holtmann’s defense was putting pressure on the Hoosiers throughout the game, and it paid dividends from start to finish. As The Athletic’s Bill Landis noted, Indiana was turning the ball over at an alarmingly high frequency for anyone who was pulling for the crimson and white:
Indiana has turned the ball over on nearly 27% of its possessions, which would be a season high. Ohio State has 17 points off those turnovers.— Bill Landis (@BillLandis25) February 13, 2021
Indiana finished the game coughing it up 15 times on 63 possessions for a 23.8% turnover percentage. The Buckeyes turned those faux pas into 21 points. In his first three seasons in Columbus, Holtmann’s teams have lived and died by how they performed on the defensive end of the floor.
So, if this collection of Buckeye talent can raise their defensive efficiency down the stretch and can continue to perform at elite levels on offense, they should be an even more daunting task for the best teams in the country in this upcoming postseason.
The men’s basketball Buckeyes will get back to action on Thursday, Feb. 18 in State College, Penn. against the Penn State Nittany Lions (7-9, 4-8), which will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network at 8 p.m. ET.