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“We thought the game was over.” Ohio State’s lack of urgency led to loss at Penn State

Ohio State sat back and watched its 18-point lead fall apart during an inexcusable loss in State College Saturday night.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Penn State Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

With 15:31 remaining during Ohio State’s game against Penn State on Saturday night, Jamison Battle lifted up and knocked down a triple from the corner, putting Ohio State up 55-37 — its largest lead of the night. The Buckeyes looked well on their way to their second consecutive Big Ten win, and eighth win overall. But after that shot went in, the Buckeyes let up. Its collective feet came off the gas pedal, and Penn State was able to wiggle its way back in.

Comebacks don’t happen quickly — especially 18-point comebacks like what happened Saturday night. After being outscored by 18 points over the first 25 minutes of the game, Penn State’s only way to win was to outscore Ohio State by 19 over the final 15 minutes. After shooting 34% in the first half and only hitting two three-pointers in the opening 20 minutes, that seemed like a tall task.

Penn State didn’t do that. They outscored Ohio State by 21 over the final 15 minutes instead.

Fortunately for the Nittany Lions, the foot that had been hovering over Penn State’s neck until that point showed them mercy. It didn’t step down and go for the kill shot. Instead, Ohio State played not to lose. It played like it just needed to kill the clock and protect a lead. That’s how comebacks happen.

After watching Penn State knock down just two of its nine three-point attempts in the first half, the Buckeyes sagged off a bit during the second half. The only player to hit a three-pointer in the first half for Penn State was Leo O’Boyle — a grad transfer who was averaging 2.3 points per game heading into Saturday’s game. The rest of Penn State combined to go 0-for-7. So is it shocking that the Buckeyes didn’t guard the three-point line with an air-tight mentality? No, not really.

But it also makes absolutely no sense why Ohio State didn’t adjust and start guarding the perimeter a bit tighter once Penn State knocked down a few of them in the second half, and that lead started to dwindle. Anyone on the team could give you a coach-speak-style answer about how Penn State put more shooters on the floor, or how they were just hitting tough shots.

It’s not true. The truth is, Ohio State thought it had this game in the bag. Roddy Gayle said as much after the game.

“I think we got a little lackadaisical,” Gayle said after the game. “We got satisfied. We had an 18-point lead, and we thought the game was over. But this is an away environment, and they threw some baskets in.”

Kudos to Roddy, who said what most players do not want to admit after their team blows a lead. Ohio State thought this game was over with 15 minutes left. It defended like it, it handled the ball like it, and it attacked the defensive glass like it.

After Penn State shot 34% in the first half, it shot a whopping 61% in the second half. It shot 22% from three-point range in the first half, but 54% in the second half. It had two offensive rebounds in the first half, but 10 of them in the second half, which led to 14 crucial second-chance points.

Ohio State, on the other hand, shot 53.6% in the first half, and 37.5% in the second half. It had 22 defensive rebounds in the first half, but only six in the second half. It allowed Penn State to score 29 points in the first half, but a whopping 54 in the second half.

While youth won’t be accepted by anyone as an excuse after how last season went, this team is still starting four sophomores. Gayle and Thornton have both shown tremendous growth in their second year, but collectively this team did not handle Saturday night’s game with maturity or discipline.

The coaching staff isn’t without blame, either. Chris Holtmann and his staff should’ve had a quicker hook with guys in the second half if they weren’t getting the job done defensively. When Penn State strings a few baskets together, try a new combination. It starts at the top.

The Buckeyes scored at least 80 points for the sixth consecutive game. 80 points is going to win you most of your basketball games. But what good does 80 points do if Ohio State isn’t showing any sense of urgency to stop its opponent from cracking 80 as well?

This is just one data point in what will be a long college basketball season. But having a sense of urgency — or not having one — could prove to be this team’s fatal flaw.