It wasn’t so much that the shots weren’t falling, or that Syracuse’s were, that bothered Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann.
It was that, as the No. 16 Buckeyes were knocked from the ranks of the undefeated with a 72-62 loss to the Orange, the defensive tenacity that had helped Ohio State (6-1) get to this point wasn’t on display.
“The most disappointing thing tonight was our defensive effort,” Holtmann said. “I felt pretty good about our zone attack, I really did. That’s not what got us beat tonight. It was more on the defensive end, and the fact that we struggled finishing.”
Join the conversation at Facebook.com/BuckeyeXtra and connect with us on Twitter @BuckeyeXtra
In front of a crowd buoyed by students given free tickets and the chance to recognize former coach Thad Matta at halftime, the Buckeyes hit their first four shots, built a 9-2 lead early and then steadily let it slip away. Syracuse (4-2) took control with a 14-2 second-half run that turned a 43-41 Ohio State lead into a 55-45 advantage for the visitors with 8:58 to play, marking the biggest deficit of the season for the Buckeyes.
They rallied late, and six straight points from senior guard C.J. Jackson pulled Ohio State within 64-58 with 2:56 remaining. But after Oshae Brissett missed a three-pointer, Kyle Young had his look blocked at the rim with 2:01 left by Paschal Chukwu.
“Goaltend,” Holtmann said. “Yeah. Goaltend. You mean the fact that it was a goaltend that wasn’t called? It was significant. A four-point game with two minutes to go?”
It wasn’t one play that sunk the Buckeyes. Syracuse, which entered the game shooting 23.3 percent from three-point range, was 11 of 24 (45.8 percent) against the Buckeyes, who were a season-worst 15 of 46 (32.6 percent) from the field and kept themselves afloat by getting to the free-throw line a season-high 35 times. They made 26 of them (74.3 percent).
Although Holtmann said it only played a part, the offensive struggles against the Syracuse zone seemed to bleed over to the defensive end.
“They were hitting shots (in the second half),” sophomore forward Kyle Young said. “They shot it well. We just had to come out more ready. We had to have the same energy we had in the first half.”
The scoreboard wasn’t the only loss for the Buckeyes. After taking a hard fall with 1:06 to play, freshman Luther Muhammad had to be helped to his feet while getting his left shoulder looked at by the training staff. He started to walk to the closest exit from the court, then turned and took the long way to walk past the Ohio State bench while nursing what Holtmann said after the game was a dislocated shoulder.
“He’s being evaluated,” Holtmann said. “We’re hopeful that he’s going to recover. We’ll know more later.”
Ohio State has now lost five straight ACC-Big Ten Challenge games. Its last win came at home against Maryland on Dec. 4, 2013, a 76-60 win. As the final seconds ticked off, a “Let’s go Orange!” chant made its way through Value City Arena.