The calendar, along with the offense, failed Ohio State Saturday night in Bloomington. The holiday season, the season of giving, is over, but the Buckeyes seemed determined to extend it to ridiculous extremes.
Bloomington, IND – It’s not unusual for a team with talent and versatility to overcome playing on the road and parlay those skills into commanding leads.
Nor is it unusual for teams lacking toughness or discipline to come apart like a hut in a hurricane at the first sign of adversity away from home.
What is unusual is for a team to have one foot firmly planted in both those polar opposites, but that’s who Ohio State has been and apparently remains doggedly determined to remain after a 71-65 come-from-ahead loss Saturday night at Indiana.
The Buckeyes fell to 12-3 overall and 2-2 in the Big Ten by following a familiar, maddening path, having also blown an 18-point second half lead in a loss at Penn State.
Of course, Ohio State is also fully capable of self-immolation at home, too, as it proved in the conference opener by allowing a 22-point lead over Minnesota to fall to just six late in that escape.
At Assembly Hall, with a Fox national TV audience watching, OSU turned a 46-37 lead with 17 ½ minutes remaining into a 66-56 deficit with 3:33 to play.
Despite all the advancements in mathematics instruction over the years, is that still a 19-point turnaround in just 14 minutes?
Now, as for how such an abysmal face-plant transpired, it started with Ohio State’s 0-for-8 shooting and three turnovers on nine consecutive possessions after seemingly taking control.
Twice during that span of indescribable incompetence, OSU got three shots at the basket and missed all of them.
In all, the Buckeyes shot 28% in the second half and committed 14 turnovers to Indiana’s four, which is how Ohio State managed to give away yet another conference road win despite – are you ready for this – outrebounding Indiana, 42-25.
If you’re thinking the Houdini Hoosiers pulled this one off by strafing OSU’s defense from three-point range or piling up a huge advantage at the free throw line, stop trying to make logical sense of another nonsensical Buckeye defeat.
IU made five three-pointers to OSU’s seven – albeit on 15 fewer attempts – and ended with only a four-point edge at the line.
That margin didn’t show up until late — much too late — because despite its offensive ineptitude, the Buckeyes fought back from a 66-56 deficit to get within 67-65 on Roddy Gayle’s reverse layup with 1:44 to play.
IU then scored at the other end, after which Gayle drove and missed with 46.8 seconds to play.
Gayle missing was not unusual on this night. After all, he went 3-of-17 from the field and 0-for-5 on three-point attempts.
What was a bit, well, different, was the defensive, uh, strategy OSU employed thereafter.
At that point, Ohio State had committed only five team fouls, so the obvious plan to facilitate a comeback would be to foul quickly, create additional possessions and force IU to preserve the win at the line with successful one-and-one free throws.
Instead, the Buckeyes didn’t commit their sixth team foul until 23.1 seconds remained, and didn’t put IU on the line for its first one-and-one until just 15.8 seconds remained.
Again, it’s old math, but that seems like a grand total of 31 seconds – from 46.8 at Gayle’s miss to 15.8 at OSU team foul No. 7 – which is about the most egregious strategic failure possible in that situation.
About the most, not the most, because there is one thing worse, and OSU deftly demonstrated it by failing to box out Xavier Johnson when he missed the back half of the one-and-one after boosting IU’s lead to 70-65.
The ball ricocheted off Felix Okpara and directly to Johnson, who then was fouled again. He made only the front end again, thus accounting for the final score when OSU’s Evan Mahaffey missed a layup just before the buzzer.
Yes, Evan Mahaffey missed a layup. Who could have possibly seen that coming?
“Watching it live, we just missed, for the most part, some pretty clean looks, partially off offensive rebounds.” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. “We had some clean looks, we just couldn’t make them.”
Leading scorer Bruce Thornton went to the bench with two personal fouls for the last eight minutes of the first half. The Buckeyes led by five when he departed, bumped that to seven at the six-minute mark and then – can you guess – let all but a single point of that slip away by the break.
Thornton finished 4-of-17 from the field and 0-for-7 beyond the arc, scoring just nine.
Jamison Battle led the Buckeyes with 17, while Okpara had six points, 15 rebounds and five blocked shots.
Malik Reneau won it for Indiana (11-4, 3-1 Big Ten) with 23 points, dominating whoever OSU tried on him in the second half, when he scored 19.
“He got going in the second half a little bit,” Holtmann said. “We were going to look at post-trapping him, but once we got Felix on him we felt like we could go one-on-one against him.”
Okpara spent most of his time on 7-0 IU freshman Kel’el Ware, limiting him to eight points and six rebounds.
Reneau repeatedly embarrassed Mahaffey in the post, then Zed Key, but also hit the separation basket IU needed by powering past Okpara with 1:15 left after OSU drew within two.
The Buckeyes were in position to double-team, but fatally backed off as Reneau powered deeper in the lane and paid the price for it.
Wisconsin, 11-3 overall and leading the Big Ten at 3-0, is next for the Buckeyes at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday (Big Ten Network).