This Ohio State basketball season has been an interesting one to say the least. Coming into the new campaign with very little expectations, it looked at one point like the Buckeyes could legitimately win the Big Ten regular season title. Winning seven-straight conference matchups starting at the end of January, Chris Holtmann’s crew played their way as high as No. 4 in the AP Poll, and were staring a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament in the face if they could close the year out strong.
As we all know by now, that did not come to fruition. Ohio State faltered down the stretch and lost each of its last four games. While three of those opponents were Top 10 teams, the Buckeyes did not play particularly well aside from the high-scoring shootout against Michigan. They lost a pair of games they easily could have won against Michigan State and Illinois, and played perhaps their worst game of the season in a blowout at the hands of Iowa. Still, an 18-8 finish with five wins over AP Top 15 teams is nothing to scoff at, and Ohio State still has a lot ahead of them heading into the postseason.
The standings don't matter anymore, as Ohio State has a chance to put its late-season losing streak in the rearview as it embarks on the Big Ten Tournament trail. They started things off on Thursday afternoon against Minnesota — a team they lost to in their lone meeting of the year back in January. Falling 77-60 that day, the Buckeyes were dominated inside by Gophers center Liam Robbins, who tied a season-high 27 points in the game to go along with a whopping 14 rebounds. Despite 21 points from Duane Washington Jr., it wasn’t enough to overcome an otherwise incredibly poor shooting performance from Ohio State.
With Robbins unavailable this time around, things went a lot differently. The Gophers lacked that size advantage in the rematch, and as a result Ohio State was able to take down Minnesota 79-75 in Indianapolis to move on to the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. The Buckeyes got a complete team effort to begin their B1G tourney run, moving the ball well and knocking down open shots at the offensive end with a commitment to not allowing Gophers’ leading scorer Marcus Carr to beat them on the defensive end.
Ohio State got some solid performances across the board, but were led in the scoring department by Justice Sueing and Duane Washington. Sueing finished with 16 points to go along with seven rebounds, while Washington matched his 16 points and added four assists. Carr caught fire for the Gophers at the end, finishing with 24 points, but it took a heavy shooting volume to get there as he went just 7-of-24 from the floor. The Buckeyes really dominated inside, scoring 44 of their 79 points in the paint. Ohio State led the game wire-to-wire, but things got a bit dicey at the end before the Bucks escaped with a W.
An early statement
If there was any doubt that Ohio State was going to come into this game with a renewed sense of energy following their late season struggles, that was put to bed right away. The Buckeyes looked strong out of the gate, and the ball movement and shot selection was far better than it had been during that four-game losing streak. There was also some clearly improved effort at the defensive end than we had seen recently. As a result, Ohio State was able to jump out to a 9-0 lead before the first media timeout, and they were doing it with style.
Duane Washington Jr. opened up the scoring with a pretty scoop layup, and both of Ohio State’s two leading scorers got on the board quickly after E.J. Liddell drilled a mid-range jumper. From there the Buckeyes began feeling themselves, and back-to-back dunks by Washington and Kyle Young — with Young’s coming on an and-one — had the OSU bench going crazy for their guys. It was good to see some early momentum go Ohio State’s way, as it got some of the bad taste out of their mouth from the end of the regular season.
Ohio State wound up scoring the game’s first 13 points before Minnesota hit their first basket at the 13:05 mark of the first period. While there was a ton of time left in this one, the early double-digit lead was significant, as the Buckeyes came into the afternoon 40-2 in the Chris Holtmann era when leading by 10 or more points in a game.
Stop that Carr!
Ohio State’s biggest issue over its four-game losing streak was far and away its defense. Over that stretch, the Buckeyes had the worst defensive efficiency of any team in the Big Ten. While some of that was a result of being far too undersized to effectively guard bigs like Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson or Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn, most of it just comes down to effort and scheme. You can’t allow discouragement at the offensive end to lead to breakdowns at the defensive end or you will be in for a long night.
Luckily, Ohio State came into Thursday’s contest with a clear defensive game plan: stop Marcus Carr. With both Liam Robbins and Gabe Kalscheur out for Minnesota, Holtmann and his staff knew that the Golden Gophers were going to have to rely heavily on their leading scorer Carr, who averaged 19.3 points per game this season. As was the case, Ohio State made it their mission to keep Carr off the scoreboard, doubling him nearly every time he touched the ball and being comfortable allowing anyone else on the team to beat them instead.
That strategy proved effective in the first period, as Carr finished the half just 2-of-12 shooting from the floor with eight points — three of which came from the charity stripe.
A Justin Ahrens fast break ‘dunk’ presented without context. You love to see it.
A flagrant box out
Big Ten refs are generally not great, but this is simply a ridiculous call. The flagrant foul call on Musa Jallow sparked a mini run from Minnesota to cut the Buckeye lead to just four points, but Ohio State quickly responded with four-straight makes — including threes from Washington, Liddell and Sueing — to extend the lead back up to 11 with 2:48 left in the period.
Musa Jallow just got a flagrant 1 for this box out. I’m sick. pic.twitter.com/XTTnwhF09s— Mike Yourstowsky (@TheRisingSKI) March 11, 2021
Ohio State would go into the locker room leading by 12 with the score at 39-27. The Buckeyes made their final seven shots from the field to end the half, capped by a fast break dunk by Jallow as Holtmann’s guys looked to build some momentum heading into the second period.
Letting it slip
The second period did not exactly go as planned for Ohio State, as with 7:34 to go Minnesota had cut the Buckeye lead to just four points. Neither team was playing particularly well, but Ohio State had gone cold from floor, hitting just six of their first 19 shots from the floor in the half. Conversely, the Gophers were 9-of-23 in the period, but they knocked down 4-of-9 from deep to cut the OSU lead to 53-49. The rebounding certainly wasn’t helping either, as 13 offensive rebounds for Minnesota had led to an unacceptable 16 second-chance points to this point in the game.
Getting beat on the glass 35-31 overall with over seven minutes to play, turnovers were another issue for Ohio State, as the 12 giveaways tied their largest number in the team’s last nine games. The Buckeyes also weren’t getting much from their leading scorer Liddell, as the sophomore was just 4-of-13 from the field with 10 points. With no hot hand to go to, Minnesota continued to chip away at the Ohio State lead. In a scenario that has become all too familiar for Buckeye Nation over these past few weeks, Holtmann’s team was in a close game that looked like it would come to the wire despite leading the entirety of the contest.
The last seven minutes of the second period looked slightly better than the first 13, as Ohio State was able to hang on to secure the victory. Both teams starting knocking down their shots with much more regularity, but the Buckeyes were able to extend their lead back up to 12 and keep Minnesota at bay for the rest of the afternoon. The Gophers had their run early in the period, but Ohio State did not panic and got back up by double-digits to keep things comfortable — at least until the closing seconds.
The defense wasn’t spectacular down the stretch, but a good enough performance at the offensive end helped to keep the lead intact until the final buzzer despite a furious run by Minnesota to make things close. Ohio State did not hit a field goal for the final 3:24 of action, and the Gophers stormed back into the game. A three-pointer by Carr with eight seconds remaining cut the Ohio State lead to just one, but a pair of free throws by Liddell iced the game as the Buckeyes held on by a thread.
Having avenged one of their regular season losses to begin their Big Ten Tournament run, the Buckeyes will now look to do it again when they take on Purdue on Friday. Ohio State lost both of its previous matchups against the Boilermakers, and you can be assured that Holtmann’s guys are hungry to prove they can beat Matt Painter’s squad when the two teams meet up in this postseason clash.
The game is scheduled for around 2 p.m. on BTN, or 25 minutes after the conclusion of Michigan-Maryland.