A successful basketball season in Columbus has resulted in an NCAA Tournament berth for Ohio State, as the Buckeyes have earned themselves a No. 2 seed in this year’s big dance. Chris Holtmann has now led his team to the postseason in all three seasons in which there has been a postseason since he has taken over the reins of the program, obviously excluding the COVID-19-cancelled tournament in 2020. With his first two tourney appearances ending in the Round of 32, Ohio State wanted to make a deep run this time around.
The Buckeyes’ journey began with 15-seed Oral Roberts. The program is coached by Paul Mills, who after taking over before the 2017-18 season has led the Golden Eagles to back-to-back winning seasons each of the last two years. Oral Roberts made the field after winning the Summit League Championship, defeating North Dakota State for the program’s first conference title since 2007-08. As is usually the case, ORU was led in that game by sophomore guard Max Abmas, who scored a team-high 23 points to go along with seven assists and four rebounds.
Abmas is a truly special player, leading all of Division I basketball with his 24.2 points per game. Named the 2021 Summit Player of the Year, Abmas is an incredibly adept scorer from all over the court, shooting over 48% from the field and an impressive 44% from beyond the arc. The play of their star guard is a big reason why Oral Roberts is ranked No. 12 in the country in scoring offense. However, the Golden Eagles’ problems really stem from the defensive end, where the team ranks No. 287 in the nation allowing 75.8 points per game. If Ohio State could slow down Abmas while scoring the way they did in Big Ten play, the Buckeyes would be in good shape on Friday.
That would not wind up being the case, as the 15-seed Oral Roberts Golden Eagles upset Ohio State 75-72 in overtime. Max Abmas and Kevin Obanor absolutely had their way with the Buckeyes, as the pair combined for 59 points in the victory. E.J. Liddell led Holtmann’s group with 23 points on 10-of-15 shooting to go along with 14 rebounds, but didn’t get much help elsewhere as Ohio State shot an abysmal 22% from deep and turned the ball over 16 times.
This Ohio State team has really lived and died with Duane Washington Jr. this year, and died they did as the junior shot just 3-of-12 from deep and 7-of-21 from the floor overall as he finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Washington started his afternoon 4-of-4, but from there went just 3-of-17 including 0-of-9 from three-point land. Unable to hit a shot when it mattered most, the Buckeyes’ usual ways of failing to take care of the ball late finally came back to bite them.
Despite Oral Roberts not having a player over 6-foot-8, which you’d think would play to Ohio State’s advantage as an oversized team, the Buckeyes had little interest in attacking the paint for most of the afternoon. The Golden Eagles looked to push the pace and take quick jumpers, and Ohio State played right into their hands by doing the same, which was clearly not their preferred style of play. It was also an uncharacteristically bad performance from the free throw line for OSU, hitting just 9-of-18 at the charity stripe.
In the end, an NCAA Tournament run that looked like it could end in a Final Four appearance instead ends in heartbreak as the Buckeyes fail to make it out of the first round.
20:00 — With Kyle Young out indefinitely with a concussion, Chris Holtmann rolled out the same starting five we saw in Ohio State’s last two games of the Big Ten Tournament. Duane Washington Jr. and Musa Jallow at the guard spots, Justin Ahrens at the three and Justice Sueing and E.J. Liddell rounding things out. Oral Roberts controlled the tip, and we were underway.
Alright time for #TheOhioStateBasketballExperience everyone take a deep breath— Connor Lemons (@lemons_connor) March 19, 2021
18:26 — You didn’t think this would be easy did you? The Golden Eagles came out firing, as the team’s leading scorer Max Abmas made his presence felt early. After scoring the first points of the game on a layup, he pulled up just past the mid-court March Madness logo and drilled a three-pointer to put his team up 7-0.
16:27 — That run wouldn’t last long for Oral Roberts, as Ohio State quickly answered with a 10-0 run of their own to take a 10-7 lead. The Buckeyes looked to get the ball in the hands of Duane Washington Jr., which is generally a good idea, and the guard responded by dropping eight points in quick succession on a layup and a pair of threes. Washington fired out of the gate a perfect 3-of-3 from the field, which looked like a real good sign of things to come (spoiler: It was not).
12:11 — It must feel really good for Ohio State to play a team that doesn’t have a 7-footer clogging the lane. Oral Robert’s tallest player is 6-foot-8, which is a far cry from the Hunter Dickinson’s and Kofi Cockburn’s they’ve been matched up against lately. Guys like E.J. Liddell and Zed Key were able to assert themselves inside a bit, and the Buckeyes took a 19-13 lead as we went under the 12-minute mark.
This is Operation Feed Zed Key in the post right now. Not sure how long he can be in there for defensive purposes in this one, but he certainly has a size advantage down low and isn't afraid to use it.— Colin Hass-Hill (@chasshill) March 19, 2021
9:17 — This is a battle of two teams trying to play at wildly different paces. Oral Roberts was looking to push the tempo and really speed things up, while Ohio State was looking to slow down the game and set up their offense each time down the floor. The Golden Eagles had missed 11 of their last 12 shots from the floor, and after a pair of free throws by CJ Walker the Buckeyes now led 23-15.
6:54 — Ohio State should probably be dominating this game, but shot selection has been less than ideal. Oral Roberts has made one of its last nine shot attempts, but the Buckeyes have missed seven of their last eight and haven't scored in nearly three minutes. OSU has a significant advantage when it comes to physicality and play below the rim, but instead continues to settle for three-pointers that are not falling. Justin Ahrens continues this late season struggles, starting off 0-of-2 shooting as a defensive liability.
ORU’s Obanor hits 3 after long drought cuts OSU lead to 23-18 6:54 left first half ... OSU struggling to get much from anybody other than DWJ ... he is 4-7 fgs rest of team 5-16— Steve Helwagen (@SteveHelwagen) March 19, 2021
5:00 — Just like that, Oral Roberts goes back on top, 26-25, on an Abmas three-pointer. The Buckeyes refuse to attack the paint, and despite getting open looks from outside cannot get a shot to fall. The Golden Eagles are statistically the worst defensive team in the entire NCAA Tournament field, but Ohio State was allowing them to set the tempo and crumbling under the rapid pace. Everything looked sloppy at both ends of the floor for Holtmann’s guys as turnovers also started to mount — including twice in a row off the in-bounds pass.
The #Buckeyes are really struggling on scramble situations. Oral Roberts if finding the open man. Not a good idea for the country’s 10th best three-point shooting team.— Patrick Murphy (@_Pat_Murphy) March 19, 2021
3:27 — Max Abmas is killing Ohio State. The nation’s leading scorer already has 18 points on 5-of-6 shooting from downtown as Oral Roberts takes a 32-26 lead. The Buckeyes are missing open shots, playing terrible defense, not controlling the ball and overall failing to do anything that would lead to successful basketball. ORU had already collected five offensive boards despite having zero size and OSU was 27% shooting from beyond the arc. Ugly, ugly stuff.
0:00 — With how poorly Ohio State played they were lucky to only trail 36-33 at halftime — something I didn’t think I would have to say against a 15-seed in the first round. The Buckeyes really let the game speed up on them, which is exactly what Oral Roberts was trying to do with its frantic style of play. Abmas led all scorers at the break with 18 points, while Washington led Ohio State will 11 — all coming in the first five minutes of action.
If Ohio State can figure out how to defend a ball screen, I think it can win. Then again, we've been waiting 30 games for that happen and it hasn't quite taken hold yet. Oral Roberts is shooting 14-36, and not many of those looks have been contested.— Bill Landis (@BillLandis25) March 19, 2021
Certainly not the box score you want to see after one period. Against a team that is statistically awful at both defense and rebounding, Ohio State managed to score just 33 points in the half while barely edging out the rebounding battle 19-18. The Buckeyes had to do a better job of defending the three-point line where Oral Roberts has excelled all year long, and must look to attack the paint where they held a slim 18-14 edge in points at the break.
19:40 — Ohio State scored the first points of the second half on — get this — a Justin Ahrens two-point basket on a layup along the baseline. Not something you see everyday.
Go ahead and mark "Justin Ahrens reverse layup" off your bingo card!— Land-Grant Holy Land (@Landgrant33) March 19, 2021
18:15 — Ohio State re-takes the lead at 37-36 on an easy layup for Liddell. The Buckeyes could pretty much get anything they want inside, but the have to commit to getting the ball down low.
17:18 — Well, it was fun while it lasted. Ohio State refuses to guard the three-point line, and quickly they are back down 42-37. Oral Roberts is gonna keep chucking it, especially if they are wide open, and the shots are falling for the Summit League champs.
14:46 — The Buckeyes trail 45-42 after Zed Key goes 0-of-2 at the free throw line, and to make matters worse Liddell appears to be dealing with some pain in his lower back and is being stretched out by the trainers on the sideline. Oral Roberts continues to put up three-pointers, and Ohio State continues to rush its offense and take terrible shots.
E.J. Liddell is getting stretched out by an athletic trainer behind the bench area. Hard to tell what's going on with him. Chris Holtmann back there checking on him right now.— Colin Hass-Hill (@chasshill) March 19, 2021
12:59 — Abmas knocks down a pair at the charity stripe to put the Golden Eagles up 47-42. Ohio State is getting nothing from its two leading scorers in Liddell — who has since returned to the floor — and Washington. Liddell is not being aggressive enough on offense and has looked slow on defense, while Washington has not hit a single shot since the 15:25 mark of the first period. Oral Roberts is threatening to run away from the two-seed.
EJ Liddell is 0-9 the last two games from three-point range.— Bucknuts (@Bucknuts247) March 19, 2021
8:35 — Finally some signs of life from this Ohio State team that has look the flattest I've seen them all season long to this point. The Buckeyes quite literally cannot buy a basket as wide open look after wide open look just continue to clang off the iron. However, Oral Roberts has gone a bit cold as well, and an and-one bucket by Liddell cuts the OSU deficit to 51-50. It’s been an ugly 30-plus minutes from Holtmann’s group, with 11 turnovers thus far and a 4-of-18 performance from deep. After starting 4-of-4, Washington was not 4-of-11 shooting and 3-of-9 from downtown.
E.J. Liddell's and-one was the second made shot from the field for Ohio State in the past ~seven~ minutes. Against Oral Roberts.— Colin Hass-Hill (@chasshill) March 19, 2021
6:57 — Hey look! An Ohio State lead! Duane Washington Jr.’s floater makes it 54-53 Buckeyes as we are getting closer to crunch time. The bucket broke a streak of seven-straight misses for the guard, and was Washington’s first points since the 15:25 mark of the first period.
4:03 — The game has turned into a track meet as neither team can hold a lead for more than a few seconds. Ohio State is still playing incredibly poorly at the defensive end, but some of their open shots that weren’t falling earlier were beginning to drop — mostly because they finally decided to attack the rim. A free throw by Musa Jallow gave the Buckeyes a slim 61-60 lead with a ton of basketball left to be played.
E.J. Liddell and CJ Walker really keeping Ohio State alive in this game. Feeding Liddell inside has been the Buckeyes' best offense, while Walker has also made some great drives to the basket.— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) March 19, 2021
3:11 — Washington gives Ohio State a 63-60 lead as the Buckeyes have now hit six of their last seven attempts from the field. Holtmann is clearly intent on getting his guys to slow things down and run their offense the way they want to without letting their opponent dictate the flow, and it has been working in these past few minutes. The renewed desire of working the ball inside is paying dividends for a much for physical Ohio State unit.
1:46 — Liddell pins Abmas’ fast break layup attempt to the backboard off an Ohio State turnover as the Buckeyes narrowly cling to a four-point lead, 64-60. Liddell now has four fouls. Ohio State has made it a tendency these past few games to repeatedly give the ball away down the stretch, so it would be nice if they avoided that this time around.
0:35 — Liddell going to the line for two free throws with Ohio State leading 64-62. Misses the front end of the one-and-one. Oral Roberts ball with the clock winding down.
0:14 — Kevin Obanor fouled by Jallow on a floater. The first shot drops. The second is good as well, and we now have a tie ballgame at 64-64.
0:00 — Washinton Jr.’s shot at the buzzer is no good. This one’s going to overtime.
Free basketball amirite— Bill Landis (@BillLandis25) March 19, 2021
3:58 — Oral Roberts takes the lead on an easy bucket by Obanor. Washington’s shot attempt at the other end is no good — again. Ohio State once again refuses to drive, and it may cost the Buckeyes the game.
3:26 — And-one for Obanor, who is now the Golden Eagles’ leading scorer with 28 points. One of these teams is doing everything they can to win this game, the other one is Ohio State. 69-64 Oral Roberts.
2:10 — Jumper good for Abmas following another Ohio State turnover. He retakes the crown as Oral Roberts’ leading scorer with 29 points. The Buckeyes are lost, as they have been all game. Their season is on the brink at 72-66 with just over two minutes left.
1:09 — Washington converts the and-one play to cut the deficit to three, 72-69. One last chance here for Ohio State if they can make a stop.
0:37 — The Buckeyes finally play some defense, and Washington is fouled at the other end. Misses both at the line. That may be the dagger. Ohio State is now 9-of-18 at the line.
0:14 — Kareem Thompson knocks down one of two free throws. Liddell drills a three-pointer at the other end. It is now a 73-72 game as Obanor will head back to the line following an intentional foul by Ohio State. He hits both to make it 75-72, so the Buckeyes will need to hit a triple.
0:00 — Both Ahrens and Washington get great looks, but neither shot falls. Ohio State’s season is over as they are upset by Oral Roberts 75-72.