They played hard, and well enough to excite the crowd at times. But there simply wasn’t enough – manpower or moments – to measure up in Wednesday’s loss to Purdue.
There was the three-pointer by Andre Wesson at the halftime buzzer that he launched in front of the Buckeyes bench. He held up three fingers running off the court and into the locker room.
There was a heady reverse lay-up off a follow by Musa Jallow amid a throng of Purdue players 2 ½ minutes into the second half.
There were two rainbow-like three-pointers from freshman Justin Ahrens of Versailles that got a doubting crowd of 12,736 at the Schott believing in mini-miracles.
But a regulation college basketball game lasts 40 minutes, and the undermanned Buckeyes flat out got tuckered out against the heady, veteran Boilermakers in losing, 79-67. Carsen Edwards led with 27 points, four rebounds and five steals.
Ohio State (12-6, 2-5) played without sophomore forward Kyle Young because of a leg stress fracture. Freshman guard Duane Washington Jr. was coming off the 24-hour flu and played less than 10 minutes.
And it just wouldn’t have been a typical Buckeyes game if center Kaleb Wesson didn’t get hit by one touch foul after another. He fouled out after 16 minutes, 3 seconds on the court.
It was Ohio State’s fifth straight loss, and there are road games against Nebraska and mighty Michigan coming up.
“The results are the results right now and they are not what any of us wants,’’ coach Chris Holtmann said. “It’s certainly the hardest stretch of my coaching career, but I believe in my guys. If we can just stay committed to this process and get better and learn from this, we’ll see better days.’’
Holtmann has been looking for sustained energy – especially at the defensive end – all season, and he finally got that.
Andre Wesson scored 22 points on 9 of 10 shooting. Jallow totaled 12 points, six rebounds and five steals. Freshman Justin Ahrens of Versailles had two three-pointers and five rebounds in 17 minutes.
“This is one that we really needed,’’Andre Wesson said. “We’ve been on a losing streak. You lose four straight and you are desperate, and that’s what you saw. We were just out there playing hard and playing for one another.’’
The Buckeyes just looked different with the ball in that there was no hesitation taking outside shots or driving to the basket. Defensively, they were more aggressive than they have been in weeks in forcing 18 turnovers.
“Today was to get things moving from side to side and try to find our team’s best shot,’’ Jallow said of the offense. “We know who can do what on our team, and it was finding guys in their spots.’’
But there was no getting around that without Kaleb Wesson, the team’s leading scorer and heartbeat, winning was a long shot.
Wesson fouled out with 4:43 remaining. He had checked into the game 51 seconds earlier.
The fifth foul was called when Wesson and Purdue forward Grady Eifert were on the floor near the baseline underneath the basket fighting for a loose ball.
Wesson was so angry that he had to be restrained by a teammate.
His third foul, a block on Edwards with 1:42 left in the first half, got Holtmann so incensed that he was hit with a technical foul.
Four straight free throws by Edwards gave Purdue (13-6, 6-2) a 39-24 lead.
“They were adamant that it was on him and they were adamant that he hit him on the head,’’ Holtmann said. “It was a critical call and I made that clear to them multiple times in various ways. You are limiting one of our interior guys and our leading scorer. I asked them coming out of halftime if they reviewed it and they said it was a foul.’’
Holtmann has been contacting the Big Ten office for weeks about how poorly he thinks Wesson has been officiated. He has been in critical foul trouble or fouled out during this losing streak.
“We work on verticality every day,’’ he said of not jumping into players. “I’ve had conversations with people, the powers that be, about the way we’ve been officiated – Kaleb in particular. I wish I hadn’t gotten the technical, but I just didn’t think it was the right call.’’
Purdue coach Matt Painter echoed the belief that Wesson was an innocent victim.
“We were fortunate that he got a couple of tough calls,’’ he said.
Wesson was on the floor when the Boilermakers ran 12 straight points to lead 30-18 after two free throws by Edwards with 5:17 left in the first half.
In that span, 7-foot-3 center Matt Haarms had a three-point play, Eric Hunter a three-pointer from the baseline and driving lay-up and Edwards four free throws.
“We started passing it to ourselves instead of Ohio State,’’ Painter said of the surge. “We had a lot of turnovers the first six or seven minutes, just a lot of poor decisions and forced threes. Everybody came out and took a bad three to start the game. We started sharing the basketball. We generated some offense off our defense. It was nothing more than executing and passing to the open man and knocking down some shots.’’
Ohio State went to a small lineup with four guards and one forward in the second half and got results.
A driving lay-up by Andre Wesson and trey by Ahrens whittled the deficit to 54-50 with 12:30 to play.
The crowd sensed upset when Jallow hit a three-pointer from the baseline to get Ohio State within 64-61 with 7:02 remaining.
“Today was to get things moving from side to side and try to find our team’s best shot,’’ Jallow said. “We know who can do what on our team, and it was finding guys in their spots. I feel like we can all do better and get guys in good spots to let (the shot) go. We need to stay together and push through.’’
Holtmann credited Andre Wesson for getting the team to raise its play.
“I thought Andre’s spirit and competitiveness really carried this group, and that was good to see,’’ he said.
Purdue, though, dominated the stretch run, beginning with a trey by Cline that made it 72-63 with 4:16 left.
Eifert had a three with 1:02 left that made it 77-67.
“I’m always reluctant to say a lot before I see the film,’’ Holtmann said. “Our team had really good spirit tonight, and the players deserve credit for that. We need to play more sound and learn from this.’’
Painter was asked what Ohio State could do to get out of this funk. Before this stretch the team was ranked 14th nationally and appeared to be bored with all the success.
“It’s hard, it’s difficult because each game something different will pop up when you are going through tough times,’’ he said. “All of a sudden the next game you don’t turn the ball over, but you don’t rebound. The next game you rebound and turn the basketball over. Then you shore up both of them and don’’ make your free throws. It’s coming together as a team and just finding a way. You get a win and you can gain some confidence, especially with young guys. We’ve been in that situation before.’’
Andre Wesson said the team must wash this loss off its skin because Nebraska is looming. Young again won’t be available.
“This one really hurts, but the season goes on,’’ he said. “You don’t stop playing. We’re going to go out there and play as hard as we can at Nebraska.’’