To those who watched both games, Wednesday night unfolded like a bad case of déjà vu for Ohio State fans.
After having led Butler by 16 points in the second half before falling in overtime on the final day of the PK80 Invitational in Portland, Oregon, the Buckeyes came home to play Clemson in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Much like their last time out, they pushed their lead to double digits during the second half. And again, they faltered, this time losing 79-65 to the Tigers.
But for coach Chris Holtmann, the two games were drastically different.
“More than anything, I was not pleased with our defensive mindset or approach really from the tip,” he said. “That’s something we have to correct if we’re going to grow.”
The Buckeyes (5-3) led by 13 before the midpoint of the first half, and by 10 barely four minutes into the second half, but Holtmann was concerned about a lack of defensive deflections and about fouls committed. Those seemed more pressing, he said, than a hot-shooting first half in which the Buckeyes were 8 of 15 on three-point attempts.
So when Clemson (6-1) kept itself within striking distance, Tigers coach Brad Brownell credited the “guts and grit” of his players for fighting back.
In the Tigers' first true road game and in front of an announced crowd of 17,189 — 6,542 of whom were students given free tickets — they stymied Ohio State’s offense with a zone defense and took away some of the Buckeyes’ perimeter driving with a bigger lineup that blocked six shots, the most by an Ohio State foe this year.
Clemson took the lead for good at 54-53 with 11:07 to play, the first time the Buckeyes had trailed since 18:15 of the first half, and the Tigers continued to push. When Marcquise Reed made a free throw with 9:20 to play that gave Clemson a 59-53 advantage, it was a 22-6 run.
Ohio State never again had the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead. After turning the ball over only five times during the first half, the Buckeyes had nine second-half giveaways that led to 17 points as Clemson outscored them 49-28.
“This felt a little different (than the Butler game), but it probably stings a little worse because we were at home,” said junior forward Keita Bates-Diop, who led Ohio State with 21 points. “I felt like we had the game out of control, and then slowly they started making their run, and we started turning the ball over, and we came unpoised, and that was the game right there.”
Brownell and Holtmann implied that the Buckeyes might have been tired from having played three games in three days in Portland over the weekend, while Clemson hadn’t played since Friday. Bates-Diop, who played 37 minutes, denied that.
Ohio State has now lost three of its last four games — all against top-100 competition. Up next: a trip to Wisconsin, where the Buckeyes open Big Ten play on Saturday.
“I didn’t think we handled adversity really well and weren’t as connected as we needed to be and let frustration get the best of us,” Holtmann said. “I think we definitely took a step backwards when it comes to" mental toughnes
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