They were in it, then they lost mojo when Kaleb Wesson fouled out early. Now the Buckeyes must sit and wait for NCAA selection show if they get an at-large bid.
Thirty-three basketball games are in the book and the second-chance opportunity known as the Big Ten Tournament for those teams needing to boost their portfolios is over for them.
Now, the excruciating wait to find out whether they move on to the next level begins.
Will 19 victories, including one over fellow bubble watcher Indiana in the second round of the tournament, be good enough to qualify for even a bid to the First Four in Dayton?
Ohio State certainly won’t get anything for its work in a 77-70 loss to regular-season champion Michigan State in a Big Ten semifinal on Friday at the United Center in Chicago.
For weeks, Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann didn’t say boo about his team’s chances of making the NCAA Tournament until getting on the stump during the post-game news conference.
“I believe so, sure,’’ he said of the NCAAs. “I think our body of work from opening night was pretty good. I certainly feel confident in our body of work, and the league we play in is, top to bottom, the best in the country. I really believe that. I think the metrics show that.’’
Holtmann can be a worrier, but has said the team will make it if it’s good enough.
Just the same, he’ll probably be squirming in his seat – or maybe unable to sit – when the selection show begins Sunday.
It was the 600th career victory for Spartans coach Tom Izzo and kept his team in contention for a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“That’s just a number, you know?’’ Izzo said of the milestone. “I’m glad I have withstood the test of time so far. I didn’t think I’d do that halfway through this game because we didn’t play very well.’’
During the wait for the brackets to be revealed, the Buckeyes (19-14) will be hoping that upsets don’t reign supreme in mid-major conference tournaments.
They already have seen St. Mary’s win the West Coast Conference tournament with an upset of mighty Gonzaga to get an automatic qualifier.
They will pay close attention to whether a team such as Xavier, which had been dead in the water until the final weeks of the regular season, has done enough getting to the Big East semifinals against top-seeded Villanova.
What happens if Dayton or Davidson wins the Atlantic 10 ahead of No. 1 seed Virginia Commonwealth?
And on and on it goes for the Buckeyes.
Ohio State finished 2-10 against Michigan State, Michigan, Maryland, Purdue, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota. With the exception of Minnesota, all are considered to be locks for the NCAA Tournament.
All of their flaws were on exhibition against the Spartans.
The biggest was 6-foot-9, 270-pound man-child Kaleb Wesson again losing control of his emotions to commit his third, fourth and fifth personal fouls when Ohio State was very much in the game.
All was well when Wesson hit a three-pointer from the side to give the Buckeyes a 40-38 lead with 16:50 left to play.
Then it got crazy.
Twenty seconds later, Wesson was issued a flagrant one foul for elbowing Michigan State swingman Matt McQuaid underneath the basket going for a lay-up.
There was no need for such a move as he had 70 pounds and 4 inches on McQuaid.
McQuaid made both free throws, and Michigan State made Wesson pay for the foul even more when Foster Loyer hit a three-pointer with 16:09 left for a 45-40 lead.
Ohio State was still looking okay after Kyle Young grabbed an alley-oop pass for a lay-up that cut the deficit to 49-44 with 12:40 left.
But Wesson was called for charging when Cassius Winston drove the lane for foul No. 4. Winston made both free throws.
Finally, Wesson fouled out with 9:41 left. He missed a lay-up and took a swipe at the ball that Winston had just rebounded.
“It’s tough getting into rhythm (when you are in foul trouble),’’ he said. “You think everything is going well and then the game stops. It’s hard to get back into rhythm again. You have to sit out for a couple of minutes and then try to get right back into the game.’’
Older brother Andre Wesson didn’t have to explain why not having the big man on the floor affects this team. The Buckeyes lost to Purdue by 35 points, Northwestern by 18 and were down by 23 to Wisconsin before coming on strong to lose 73-67 in overtime when Kaleb Wesson was suspended.
He tried to explain anyway.
“A lot of our offensive plays involve him,’’ Andre Wesson said. “When you have a key player like that out, you have to find somebody else to go to. It’s hard to make that transition.’’
Michigan State big men Nick Ward and Xavier Tillman made that transition that much tougher because Ohio State’s big man became 6-8 Kyle Young.
With 8:25 left, Derrick Henry gave the Spartans a 63-49 lead with an alley-oop lay-up on a feed from Winston.
The Buckeyes scored 14 straight points at the end, but there was no danger of a fold job by the Spartans.
Really, though, they were true to form from the start going against one of the Big Ten’s elite team. In the first half, they turned the ball over 10 times in coughing up 15 points. They had 10 fouls and Kaleb Wesson played nine minutes because of foul problems.
For the game, Wesson totaled seven points and three rebounds in 15 minutes.
It wasn’t all on Wesson: Keyshawn Woods scored 16 points to lead the team, but he was limited because of three fouls in the first half. He also had four turnovers.
Point guard C.J. Jackson was 3-for-10 shooting.
The biggest question during the game was who in the heck is Loyer?
Yes, he was the high school player of the year in Michigan last season. He is a blue-chip prospect.
Before this game, though, he was averaging 5.8 minutes and had scored 45 points. His last three-pointer was January 13 and he had made four all season.
When Winston was on the bench because of a lingering toe sprain and being ripped by Izzo for committing three turnovers, Loyer was turning into a little bit of a folk hero.
Loyer hit 4 of 5 treys and 5 of 7 shots in all for 14 points in 18 minutes.
“Foster came in and made some shots,’’ Izzo said. “That’s the way he played in high school, and he needed a chance to do that. That falls on me (not playing him more).’’
Izzo said he sat down Winston because “he needed a real rest’’ because of the toe problem.
Winston, who was voted the conference player of the year, wasn’t pedestrian with 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
He enjoyed the Loyer Show.
“You saw me’’ Winston said. “You know I was going crazy for him.’’
Holtmann said he and his staff did include Loyer in the game plan.
“He’s a good player – we saw him in high school,’’ he said. “And, sure, when you have Winston it’s hard to spend too much time talking about his backup. But we did talk about him. He played really well. I thought his threes gave them real life.’’