After a tedious, yet thrilling, overtime win against Nebraska on Sunday, the Ohio State men’s basketball team was back on the court on Thursday night, and looked as if they were still trying to get their legs underneath them after being off for more than three weeks due to a rash of Covid diagnoses amongst the team.
Perhaps because they still need some more time to get back into mid-season form, No. 13 Ohio State (9-3, 3-1) fell to the Indiana Hoosiers 67-51 at Assembly Hall in Bloomington. The home team was led by All-America candidate Trayce Jackson-Davis who put up 27 points on 11-17 (64.7%) shooting.
Unlike in their weekend game against the Huskers, the Buckeyes didn’t have a player playing out of his mind against IU. Malaki Branham had put up a career night in the Buckeyes’ last game, but in the first half on Thursday, no one stepped up to put the Scarlet and Gray on their backs. Branham had six points on 3-for-9 (33%) shooting and E.J. Liddell struggled to score for the second game in a row, also accounting for six, but on 2-of-6 (33%) shooting from the field. In fairness, Liddell is just two games removed from having Covid-19, so it will undoubtedly take him some time to get back to 100%
Recent Indiana transfer Joey Brunk had his best half as a Buckeye matching his more acclaimed teammates with six points (2-2, 100%) in the first 20 minutes.
The two teams accounted for 14 lead changes in the opening stanza, with the Bucks leading by as many as eight (15-7) before closing the half on a 1-of-9 streak that saw IU take a 33-30 lead into the locker room. For the Crimson and Cream, Trayce Jackson-Davis led the way into the break with 16 points on 6-of-8 (75%) from the field before the break.
The visiting Buckeyes retook the lead, 36-35, early in the second half following back-to-back three-pointers by Liddell and Branham. The two teams fought back and forth during the first 10 minutes of the second half, neither side finding their stroke from the field. Half way through the period, IU was shooting 25% and OSU was at 33.3% after halftime.
Despite not shooting super well as a team, Branham and Liddell continued to carry the visitors in the second half, accounting for 12 of their first 15 points after the break. However, from there, the Hoosiers went on a run, scoring six to open up a 52-45 lead before Meechie Johnson Jr. hit his second triple of the night. But unfortunately for the good guys, the empty possessions started adding up and at 5:36 remaining in regulation, IU reached its largest lead of the game up 57-48.
As the minutes waned in the second half, the Hoosiers continued to add to their lead. Starting at the 9:33 mark in regulation, the home team went on a 19-3 run with Johnson’s triple being the only points for OSU.
On the night, Branham finished with 13 and Liddell 11, the only Buckeyes in double-figures. On the IU side, Race Thompson joined Jackson-Davis with 11. In the final 10 minutes of the game, the Hoosiers practically never missed as they finished the half shooting 13-of-32 (40.6%) from the field — and 41% (25-61) overall — while OSU was a putrid 6-of-23 (26.1%) after halftime and 30.8% (16-52) for the game.
Indiana is a quality opponent, and given what the Buckeyes have dealt with over the past month, this result is perhaps not all that surprising. And this is college basketball, not football, one conference loss does not destroy your season. As I said on a recent postgame podcast, if you can win the vast majority of your home games and go .500 on the road in the Big Ten, that will get you most of the way to where you want to be in this league.
Chris Holtmann’s squad will be back in action on Sunday, Jan. 9 at 5:30 p.m. ET as they have their first home game in over a month as the Northwestern Wildcats come to Columbus. The game will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.
The Buckeyes will only go as far as Kyle Young will take them
This is not a new thought, in fact I wrote and tweeted about it a lot last season after a second concussion in a week and a half ended Young’s 2020-21 campaign in the middle of a historic run in the Big Ten Tournament. But, unless the Buckeyes are able to rely on a fully healthy Young for the entirety of the conference and postseason slates, this squad is destined to repeat the underachieving results of the previous Holtmann iterations.
Despite the fact that Ohio State has very talented front court players in Liddell and Zed Key, neither of them are the type of big man who revels in the nastiness that occurs in the paint of a Big Ten conference game. Young, on the other hand, brings a tenacity that has been incredibly impactful for OSU in the forward’s five years with the program.
The phrase “Kyle Young doing Kyle Young things” has become synonymous with No. 25 diving on the floor for a loose ball, battling for a rebound against a bigger and (theoretically) stronger center, or forcing a post player into a bad pass or shot. While Young has added a very fairly effective deep shot to his repertoire in the past year or so (much to the surprise of many, myself included), his biggest value to his team is what he can do under the rim on both ends of the floor.
His willingness to take on anybody, anytime in the post opens up Liddell — and to a lesser degree Key — to operate in space on the offensive end and to avoid the bruising nature of Big Ten play on the defensive side. Anytime that Young is not in the game — whether that is for a breather or if he is in street clothes — OSU just doesn’t have a traditionally hard-nosed Big Ten big man who is ready, willing, and able to mix it up with all of the elite, dynamic post players in the league. And that was obvious with how Jackson-Davis owned the paint on Thursday night.
As is true in all sports, the best ability is “availability,” but despite his inherent toughness, Young has not been able to string together complete seasons for the Buckeyes. From a stress fracture to having his appendix removed to a high ankle sprain to multiple concussions to probably a half dozen other issues that I can’t recall off the top of my head, it seems as though it’s always something with Kyle Young.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t hold that against him, the dude is legitimately tough; in fact, some of those injuries might be a direct byproduct of his toughness, while some of them are just plain bad luck.
For example, K.Y. missed the Nebraska game and played only 17 minutes in the first half of Thursday’s contest against IU due to a “non-covid illness, and he never looked like the 6-foot-8 version of Aaron Craft that we’ve come to know and love (and opponents have come to know and hate).
On the game, Indiana dominated 38-10 in terms of points in the paint. In the Big Ten, that is not a recipe for success, and unless Young is able to get back to — and stay at — his pre-covid hiatus health and productivity, this team is very likely to get pushed around underneath until March.