Ds Scholarship

Can Buckeyes heal up to make strong showing in The Big Dance?

And that brings us to the topic of the most recent loss to Penn State. Ohio State held a 13-point lead midway through the first half and was ahead by nine points at the half. The Buckeyes still led by as many as nine points with 12 minutes left before the plucky Nittany Lions chipped away and, ultimately, took the hard fought win at the end.

This was reminiscent of past OSU losses. The Buckeyes went seven minutes of clock time without a field goal in the second half. They had similar droughts in a number of the recent losses.

Last Sunday, OSU was outscored by Michigan 45-32 in the second half of what ended up as a 75-69 losses. The Buckeyes were outscored in the second half by both Maryland and Nebraska in those late-season losses as well.

On Thursday, Penn State put up a whopping 47 points in the second half while OSU managed just 35. The Nittany Lions scored those points in just 30 possessions, meaning they averaged just over 1.5 points per possession. PSU scored on 22 of those possessions, including on 12 of its last 14 possessions to end the game.

In short, the Buckeyes were not maximizing their possessions and they could not get stops on the defensive end – and this was against a limited Penn State team that had only won seven Big Ten games (and 13 games overall) coming in.

I went back and re-watched the second half and found a lot of common themes. OSU still led 51-42 with 10 minutes remaining. Penn State outscored OSU 29-17 over the remainder of the game. Both teams had 17 possessions over those last 10 minutes. Here’s how it unfolded:

* PSU’s Jaheam Cornwall got a step on Wheeler. He drove for a layup and was fouled. He missed the free throw, but PSU cut the lead to 51-44 … At OSU’s end, Liddell missed a midrange jumper.

* PSU’s Sam Sessoms came off a high ball screen, got OSU’s Russell on his hip and hit an off-balance jumper in the lane to make it 51-46 … At OSU’s end, Branham threw a bad pass that PSU’s Myles Dread stole.

* The Buckeyes forced a shot clock violation … But they did not score as Branham was bodied on a drive by the bulky Dread and, trying to do too much, had his shot knocked away by 6-9 John Harrar.

* PSU’s Sessoms came off another high screen and hit a fadeaway jumper in the lane over Russell … OSU called a timeout with a 51-48 lead with 7:50 left. Liddell was fouled and his two free throws put OSU up 53-48.

* Harrar caught a pass in the high post and hit Seth Lundy on a back door pass as he got behind Russell for the layup, cutting the lead to 53-50 … At the other end, Branham missed on a three late in the shot clock .

* Penn State pushed it in transition and flipped it back to Dread. He faked a three and Liddell flew by before he stroked it again and made it to tie the game at 53-53 with 6:34 left. The crowd began getting behind the upset-minded Lions here… At the other end, Liddell was fouled and split a pair of free throws to put OSU back up 54-53.

* Penn State used good ball movement and Dread found Lundy for a wide open three as the Buckeyes were slow rotating. His shot gave PSU its first lead at 56-54 … At the other end, Russell drove the baseline and flipped it back to Brunk, who made a one-hander in the lane to tie it at 56-56.

* Penn State had a rare empty possession as Sessoms missed a three … But Branham lost it going up against Harrar.

* Sessoms attacked, drew contact on Branham and hit a bank shot. His free throw put PSU up 59-56 with 4:26 left … At the other end, Brunk connected on a hook to cut the lead to 59-58.

* Sessoms came off a high ball screen, got ahead of Russell (again) and nobody stepped up to stop him on a drive down the lane. His bank shot put PSU up 61-58 … At the other end, Brunk tried a long hook shot that went in and out.

* PSU’s Jalen Pickett backed down Russell and drew a foul. He split his free throws for a 62-58 lead … Wheeler missed a three, but Liddell was fouled. He made both free throws to make it 62-60.

* Harrar came up to set a ball screen, but slipped to the basket and accepted a pass. OSU’s Brown fouled him. His two free throws made it 64-60 … At the other end, Branham got into the lane and made a tough shot against a taller defender. OSU trailed 64-62 with 1:55 left.

* OSU got a hard fought stop as Wheeler forced Sessoms into a tough jumper. But the ball came off a bit long on Harrar went up among three Buckeyes, rebounded it and laid it in for a 66-62 lead with 1:24 left. This was probably the play of the game. Brunk appeared to have position, but it came off long … Liddell was fouled and split his free throws to make it 66-63.

* PSU’s Pickett came off a screen and was fouled. His two free throws made it 68-63 with 45.2 seconds left … At the other end, OSU didn’t seem to have anything working and called timeout with 33.1 seconds left. Out of the timeout, Russell missed a contested jumper and, after an offensive rebound, Ahrens missed on a three.

* Pickett was fouled and missed the front end of a one-and-one – just the third empty possession in the game’s final 10 minutes for PSU … Liddell missed on a three.

* PSU’s Dread was fouled on the rebound. He split his free throws for a 69-63 lead … Branham went down the lane for a jam to make it 69-65 with 4.3 seconds left.

* PSU’s Lundy was fouled and hit both free throws … Wheeler splashed a meaningless three at the buzzer.

OK, I’m not exactly John Wooden with the dry erase board, but it is easy to draw some conclusions from this.

It is obvious Ohio State had no discernible answer for Penn State’s ball screen game. Sessoms and Pickett just eviscerated them – and this is on the heels of what Michigan’s DeVante’ Jones did to them in a similar vein last Sunday.

There was no team defense to speak of and the rotations seemed nonexistent. This is where the absent Key and Young would have made a difference in helping defend the paint. As result, Ohio State made Penn State look like the most efficient offensive team in college basketball.

The defensive deficiencies could be rooted in fatigue. There is only so far an eight-man rotation can carry you and it looked like some guys had their feet stuck in cement in the second half of that game. But this is definitely an area OSU needs to clean up defensively or it will be one more early NCAA exit and way-too-soon end to the season.

On the offensive end, Brunk hit two shots and tried a third one during this 10-minute stretch. Otherwise, the other 14 possessions in the last 10 minutes ended with Branham or Liddell taking a shot or turning it over. (Well, other than the meaningless wheeler three at the very end.)

As noted above, the “others” provided very little to no help. You aren’t going to beat anybody – even a 13-16 team – when you’re playing offense two-on-five.

The ball sticks way too often with those two. Yes, they are your go-to guys. But things flow a little better when some others make an occasional shot. And, yes, things would flow much better if opposing defenses had to contend with Young and Key in addition to Liddell and Branham.

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