Buckeyes Blow Big Lead, Fall in the Big Ten Tournament

Ohio State started fast, built a double digit lead that they held early in the second half, but Penn State came roaring back and the lack of depth by the Buckeyes caught up to them, falling to 11th seeded Penn State 71-68. Playing without Kyle Young, Zed Key and Meechie Johnson, Ohio State, who battled injuries all year, ran out of gas in the second half, blowing a 13 point second half lead and eliminating them from the Big Ten Tournament. Penn State improved to 14-16 with the win and Ohio State slipped to 19-11 with the loss. E.J. Liddell led Ohio State with 25 points and 8 rebounds, while Malaki Branham added 16 and Joey Brunk had 10 and 8. Sam Sessoms led Penn State with 18 and Jalen Pickett added 16 for Penn State who will advance to the quarterfinals to play 3rd seeded Purdue tomorrow night. 

Offense was hard to come by early as both teams struggled to find their stroke. Ohio State scored the first five, thanks to E.J. Liddell’s triple from the top and runner in the lane.  Penn State finally broke their drought 4 ½ minutes into the game, scoring in the middle of the lane and at the first media timeout, Ohio State led 5-2. Out of the timeout, it was all Buckeyes, out scoring the Lions 10-2 over the next 3 plus minutes, forcing a Penn State timeout. The Buckeye run was fueled by a Joey Brunk jump hook from the left block, a Liddell baseline jumper and triples from Cedric Russell and Liddell, the latter forcing the timeout with Ohio State now leading 15-4 with 11:29 left in the first half. Penn State hit a three on their first possession out of the timeout, but the Buckeyes scored the next 5 thanks to a Malaki Branham floater from 10 and a Gene Brown triple from the left wing and the Buckeyes were up 13. 5 straight Lion points answered the Buckeye burst and at the under 8, Ohio State led 20-12. The lead went to 10 when Brunk hit a left handed hook from the left block. A pair of Penn State free throws trimmed the lead, but a Brunk dunk answered and kept the lead at 10. Four straight Penn State points trimmed the lead to 6 at the final media timeout of the half, with the Buckeyes still leading 24-18. The Buckeyes increased the lead when Branham buried a pair of free throws, but a Penn State triple near the end of the shot clock cut the lead to 5. A Branham floater from the left baseline increased the lead, but a Nittany Lion answer cut it right back to 5. Jamari Wheeler buried a step back three from the top and after Penn State split a pair of free throws, Liddell hit a pair to complete the first half scoring and at the half, Ohio State led 33-24. The Buckeyes shot just 44.4% from the floor, but 5 of 9 from beyond the arc helped Ohio State get a nice halftime lead. In addition, Ohio State held Penn State to just 32% shooting including 3 of 12 from long range and also held the Lions to 0 second chance points. E.J. Liddell led Ohio State with 12 first half points, while Malaki Branham and Joey Brunk added 6 each. Sam Sessoms led Penn State with 9.

A pair of Penn State free throws opened the first half scoring, but Branham scored the next 4 to put Ohio State up 11. Just when it looked as if Ohio State was going to pull away, Penn State went on a 10-2 run to cut it to 3 with the only Buckeye points coming from Liddell’s short jumper in the lane. Just prior to the first media timeout, Liddell hit a baseline jumper while being fouled and at the under 16 media timeout, Ohio State led 41-36, with Liddell due to go to the stripe to complete the old-fashioned three point play. Liddell bagged the free throw and Ohio State led by 6. A Penn State bucket cut into the lead, but back came the Buckeyes. Russell drilled a three from the top and after a Lion miss, Wheeler got to the rim and scored high off the glass to put Ohio State up 9.  A Penn State bucket was followed by a Branham jumper from the short corner and at the under 12 media timeout, Ohio State led Penn State 49-40. Penn State scored on a put back, but a pair of Liddell free throws held the lead at 9. Six straight Lion points forced Chris Holtmann to call a timeout as suddenly offense was hard to come by for the Buckeyes, who saw their lead cut to 51-48 with 7:50 to go. Two Liddell free throws upped the lead to five, but five straight Lion points tied the game with just over 6 to go. Two more Liddell split a pair of free throws to break the tie, but a Penn State triple gave the Nittany Lions their first lead. Brunk hit a floater left of the lane to tie it ending a 7 minute drought without a field goal for the Buckeyes. An old-fashioned three point play for Penn State put the Lions up three, but a mid lane hook by Brunk cut the deficit to 1. Another Penn State score and at the final media timeout, the Nittany Lions now led 61-58 with 3:16 to go. A Penn State free throw increased the lead to four, but a pair of Liddell free throws cut it back to two. Two Lion free throws put the deficit back to four, but a Branham bucket in the middle of the lane trimmed it back to two.  A put back by Penn State and a Liddell free throw cut the deficit to three with a minute to play. Two Lion free throws upped the lead to five and that was all she wrote eliminating Ohio State from the Big Ten tournament. 

The reality is tough to swallow and people will whine and complain and call for Coach Holtmann’s job, but the reality is, this is a beat up and injured team. They have had more injuries to key players this season than any season in memory. Missing their presumed 2nd leading scorer and rebounder all year, their 6th man all year and without Key and Young down the stretch and Meechie Johnson in this game. It’s a sad reality to what could have been a promising season. To make matters worse, there was a COVID pause and a compressed schedule for a team that lost their depth. It’s not an excuse, it’s a fact. So, go ahead, call for Coach Holtmann’s job if you want, but you need to look at all they went through this year. They obviously did not reach the goals they had set at year’s beginning of the year but there were a lot of factors as to why. They aren’t done yet and hopefully a week of rest will allow for Young and Key’s return to try to put together a good weekend next weekend and advance in the NCAA tournament. 

Ohio State will await their seeding and matchup in the NCAA tournament and will take the floor either next Thursday or Friday in the first round, time and network to be announced.

-Jason Harris

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