Another game, another blown lead, and another ugly loss summarize Ohio State’s worst defeat yet of the season, which given the Buckeyes’ ineptitude, is quite a high bar.
Columbus, OH – No team wins the Big Ten basketball championship without being really good at a lot of things.
Oddly, the same is true of the team that finishes last in the conference.
It’s just good at a lot of really bad things.
Ohio State, rapidly making its claim on the bottom of the standings, has demonstrated the uncanny knack of being superbly proficient at something almost no team in any conference ever gets the chance to prove…blowing an 18-point second-half lead.
You see, to do that, you have to be proficient enough to take an 18 point lead, and inept enough to give it away.
The Buckeyes did that at home on Tuesday against Indiana, perhaps the only team in the Big Ten struggling as much lately as OSU, to absorb a 76-73 loss.
It’s Ohio State’s fifth straight defeat, eighth in nine games and the second time this season the Buckeyes have snatched defeat from. the jaws of a sure win to a conference opponent, having also done so by losing from 18 in front on Dec. 9 at Penn State.
Back then, sitting at 8-1 overall with a dominant win over then-No. 17 Alabama, the concern was the damage such a faceplant might do to OSU’s NCAA Tournament seed or its chance to place among the top three teams in the league.
Now, those laments seem farcical, given the demolition derby this season has become, and the assumption that’s gaining momentum that this is the final season of Chris Holtmann’s seven-year stewardship of the program.
If Ohio State’s mounting loss total (13-9, 3-8) doesn’t do Holtmann in, the resounding indifference of an emotionally-abused fan base surely will.
It says something – all of it bad – that Ohio State had to resort to the gimmicky marketing of 1990s Throwback Night to entice something other than another embarrassingly-sparse Tuesday night crowd with Indiana coming to town.
The Candy Pants Hoosiers, as close to a rival in hoops as OSU partisans have had over the years – arrived with all the energy of a wounded trophy buck bearing a blood trail all the way back to Bloomington.
It was there, on Saturday, that IU managed to lose to 11-11 Penn State by 14 points, despite the Nittanys not having their leading scorer.
But knowing the prospect of simply kicking the hated Hoosiers when down might not be enough to lure fans from their Barcoloungers, OSU offered free T-shirts and $12 upper bowl tickets to its customer base.
All that sleight of hand brought all of 11,157 customers out to watch, or 7,700 shy of capacity in Value City Arena. On the bright side, last night’s crowd for IU would have been just 2,000 shy of a full house if OSU still played in St. John Arena, which was too small and too drafty when the Buckeyes moved out in 1999.
You remember St. John Arena, right? The rocking venue where Jim Jackson drove it down Indiana’s throat to force overtime and then suckered the Hoosiers into thinking he would do it again before kicking to Treg Lee for the game-winner in 1992?
The place where, a year later, IU killer Jamie Skelton’s dagger three near the finish lifted the Buckeyes – who’d lost eight of their previous 11 games – to an upset of No. 1 Indiana?
Those were the days when OSU had players who actually wanted the ball at crunch time and weren’t on the heart transplant waiting list.
Or as Chris Holtmann explained it following Tuesday’s loss, “I just didn’t think we were aggressive enough, really, on either end.”
Of course, as it so often does, everything started splendidly for the Buckeyes. Bruce Thornton, Roddy Gayle and Jamison Battle combined for 30 points in OSU’s advance to a 42-29 lead at the break.
Just over two minutes into the second half, all three had scored again and the margin was 49-31, at which point the Buckeyes apparently got confused by the whole “Throwback” thing and decided to throw back the lead.
Gayle, Battle and Thornton suddenly developed an allergy to the basketball, exhibiting exactly zero willingness to take or make a shot.
None of them scored until Battle squeezed a gift goal-tending call out of a horrendously whistle-happy crew with 1:40 left to forge a 71-71 tie.
In the interim, both Malik Reneau and Treg Galloway did everything but fight each other for the opportunity to wear the hero’s cape for IU.
Galloway scored 16 of his 25 points after OSU went in front by 18. Reneau had 13 of his 26 in that same stretch.
Battle’s two free throws at 37.6 gave the Buckeyes a two-point margin, but then Galloway drove the right side of the lane as Gayle dropped 10 feet off seldom-used senior Anthony Leal in the corner.
He drained the high-arcing triple for a one-point margin with 22.8 seconds left.
That gave OSU plenty of time to respond, but as it did Friday at Iowa, on the potential game-winning play, the ball never found point guard Bruce Thornton and the Buckeyes turned it over.
Then it was center Felix Okpara’s double dribble, this time it was Battle trying to create off the dribble – not his strength – before losing possession to set up two clinching Hoosiers’ free throws.
“They just jumped it and he just bobbled it.” Holtmann said, explaining away Battle’s fatal turnover. “I think he just bobbled the ball. I’d have to look at it.”
Thornton did get off a tying triple attempt at the horn from 30 feet, but it landed with thud, just like the season has since New Year’s Day.
Saturday, it’s Maryland’s turn to pick over the remaining remnants of OSU’s carcass in a 4 p.m. tip that’ll stretch the marketing guys’ creativity.
Maybe the pitch will be, “Don’t miss our last best chance to win for a while,” since games at Wisconsin, home against Purdue, at Minnesota, at Michigan State and home against Nebraska come hard and fast thereafter.
Maybe Jerry Lucas, or Bill Hosket, or Lawrence Funderburke or Evan Turner can shake free to come back over the next few weeks and wave hello to prop up the attendance.
Aaron Craft is already on the docket to attend a card collector show in OSU’s auxiliary gym the day Zach Edey and Purdue are scheduled for a Sunday afternoon tip on national TV Feb. 18. Buy a ticket to the card show that morning and you get a freebie for what’s sure to follow that afternoon.
Sure, it sounds cheesy, but at this point, given the product, you can’t really blame the boys in ticket sales for treading on the past, given the present.
Clearly, from now on until this nightmare concludes, you can’t really blame them for pounding the only positive at their disposal: “Ohio State basketball…come and watch us…we used to be good.”