Buckeyes Season Ends, Falling to 2nd Seeded Villanova

Ohio State saw their season end to a very talented Villanova team, who never trailed, building a lead as large as 15 and fought off a Buckeye second half rally, defeating the Buckeyes in the Round of 32, 71-61. The Buckeyes up and down season came to a close with a final record of 20-12. Villanova will move on to the sweet 16 to take on Michigan in San Antonio on Thursday. Attempting to get to a Sweet 16 for the first time since 2013, it just wasn’t meant to be on this day. Villanova did an outstanding job on both ends of the floor, making things uncomfortable for Ohio State from the jump. The Buckeyes went with a big lineup that included Liddell, Key and Young and got back into the game, getting as close as two, but Young getting dinged again and having to leave the game, it turned back into Villanova’s favor and Ohio State just couldn’t overcome Young’s absence. Malaki Branham led Ohio State with 23, while E.J. Liddell added 17 and Zed Key came off the bench and pulled down 11 rebounds. Collin Gillespie led the Wildcats with 20, but really struggled with Young on him, but with Kyle out late, Gillespie hit a couple dagger jumpers that allowed Villanova to pull away and ultimately secure the victory. 

A pair of early turnovers and a Nova triple had the Wildcats out to the early lead. E.J. Liddell tied it with a triple from the right point, but a 4-0 Villanova run had the Wildcats up 7-3 at the first media timeout. Out of the timeout, Gene Brown split a pair of free throws to cut the deficit to 3, but two free throws the other way put the Cats 5 with just under 15 to go in the first half. A long Meechie Johnson triple from the top at the end of the shot clock cut the lead to 2, but Nova answered with a three of their own to bump the lead back to 5. A Buckeye turnover led to a Villanova breakaway layup and the Wildcats were doubling up Ohio State 14-7. After a Buckeye miss, another Nova triple forced Ohio State to call timeout with 12:21 left in the half with the Buckeyes looking up at a 17-7 deficit and Villanova on an 8-0 run. Kyle Young ended the run, tipping in his own miss to cut into the lead and a shot clock issue stopped play and sent the teams to the benches at the under 12 media timeout with Ohio State now trailing 17-9. A pair of Nova buckets sandwiched around a Liddell score mid-paint had the Buckeyes down 10. A Malaki Branham short jumper just left of the paint followed by a pair of Liddell free throws got Ohio State to within 6. A Nova bucket to increase the lead and at the under 8 media timeout, Villanova was enjoying a 23-15 lead. Branham found Liddell at the rim for a dunk to cut the lead to 6. Nova scored on the other end, but a Brown bucket answered. Two Villanova free throws put the Wildcats up 8, but a Branham triple from the top off an inside out from Liddell cut the lead back to five. Six straight Nova points later and at the final media timeout, Villanova was controlling the game, up 33-22. A corner three by Branham cut the lead to 8, but Nova got away with a forearm and scored mid lane to go back up 10. Two Villanova free throws increased the lead to 12, but Liddell banked in a three near the end of the shot clock and just 15 seconds on the game clock to cut the lead to 9. After a Villanova timeout with 11 seconds to go, the Wildcats got the benefit of a terrible late foul call and two free throws later the half ended with Villanova on top 39-28. Villanova’s hot shooting and tremendous half court defense was the difference in the first 20 minutes, hitting 52% from the field including 4 of 10 from deep. Ohio State was held to 38.5%, but did hit 5 of 12 from three to keep it somewhat close. The Wildcats also controlled the glass, out rebounding Ohio State 19-11 to essentially dominate the first half of basketball. E.J. Liddell led Ohio State with 12, while Malaki Branham added 8. Villanova was led by Collin Gillespie’s 12 and Caleb Daniels added 9. 

More Wildcats early in the second half, scoring 9 of the first 14 to grab a 15 point lead at the under 16 media timeout. The Buckeyes got a Liddell free throw, a Brown baseline jumper and a Branham pull up in transition from 12, but the Wildcats were firmly in control, up 48-33. Out of the timeout, back to back Branham mid range jumpers cut into the lead and a Kyle Young one hander mid lane forced Villanova to call timeout with Ohio State a bit closer, now trailing 48-39 and on a 6-0 run, all with E.J. Liddell on the bench taking a breather. A pair of Nova free throws ended the run, but Young barged to the rim for the answer. A Nova bucket was answered again but Zed Key tipped in his own miss to keep pace. A Villanova long three put the Wildcats back ahead 12 and at the under 12 media timeout, Villanova led Ohio State 55-43. Liddell scored mid-paint and Key split a pair of free throws to cut it to 9. The Buckeyes cut it to 6 when Branham drilled a transition triple. A Nova bucket was followed by a Branham jumper and the Buckeyes were beginning to creep closer and at the under 8 media timeout, Villanova was clinging to a 57-51 lead. Out of the timeout, Branham banked in a long jumper with his foot on the 3 point line to cut it to 4, but a big time answer triple for Nova put the Cats up 7. Liddell hit a short jumper from the right block and Jamari Wheeler drilled a triple from the right wing to cut the deficit to two and Ohio State called timeout with 5:04 to go and trailing 60-58. A Nova bucket followed by a Key free throw cut the deficit to 3, but another Nova hoop increased the Wildcat lead and at the final media timeout, Liddell was going to the stripe with Villanova leading 64-58 and 3:38 to play. Liddell missed the front end of the 1 and 1, but both teams went cold, especially troubling for Ohio State and a Nova triple with 1:30 to play was a dagger.  Ohio State took a timeout, but with little time to play and looking up at an 8 point deficit. Branham got to the rim for a score and after a backcourt foul, Villanova knocked down the pair with under a minute to go. A Branham miss sent Villanova back to the stripe and it was all but over as Ohio State’s season came to a close but not without a valiant effort. 

The injury bug hit the Buckeyes again. Poor Kyle Young. The Buckeyes had all the momentum and cut it to two and Young goes down and the game completely turned back to Villanova. Give Ohio State credit for battling back but it was all for naught. Not much else to say for Ohio State as this game was a microcosm of the season. To their credit, they left it all out on the floor but it was just not meant to be. A huge thank you to Kyle Young, E.J. Liddell and all the seniors for their great effort for this program. Two all time Buckeyes and will be forever remembered for their contributions. We will look forward to the next generation of Buckeyes while compartmentalizing a lost season, one fraught with injuries and COVID stops and what once looked like a promising year, ends in a round of 32 loss to a talented Villanova basketball team. 

A look ahead to next year will be coming in the days ahead but for now, Ohio State will own this one and look ahead to an important offseason as we find out the decisions of Justice Sueing, Seth Towns and Malaki Branham, who are all expected to return. 

The Buckeyes will take the floor in November for a brand new season with a retooled roster in what looks to be a very hopeful season with a lot of talent coming into the program. Stay tuned.

Jason Harris

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