TULSA, Okla. – Knowing coaches can only do so much on a quick turnaround in the NCAA Tournament, Chris Holtmann knew what would decide Sunday night’s game.
In short, he said Saturday afternoon: players make plays. And with a Sweet Sixteen berth on the line out of the BOK Center in the Midwest regional, Houston had a few more of them. Against a Cougars team that was as quick, feisty and occasionally downright nasty as any they have faced all season, the Buckeyes (20-15) bowed out of the tournament with an emotional, 74-59 loss.
No. 3 seed Houston (33-3) will face No. 2 seed Kentucky on Friday night in Kansas City, Mo., and make their first Sweet Sixteen appearance since the Phi Slama Jama team of 1984. Ohio State, after being picked to finish eighth in a preseason media poll conducted jointly by the Dispatch and the Athletic, fought its way into the NCAA Tournament as a No. 11 seed and advanced with an upset of No. 6 seed Iowa State on Friday night.Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our BuckeyeXtra newsletter
The Buckeyes, as has been the case all season, hung tough. Trailing for most of the game, they looked to have pulled within four points at 50-46 at the midway point of the second half, but Kaleb Wesson’s put-back was waved off as he was whistled for a foul. Chris Harris Jr. dunked on Houston’s next possession, pushing the lead back up to eight points, and Ohio State would never again have the ball with the deficit within two possessions.
From that point, the Buckeyes would score their next nine points exclusively from the free-throw line as Houston held serve.
Keyshawn Woods, who had averaged 15.4 points in his prior five games, could carry them no further. He finished with 10. Unable to score in the paint somewhat on account of getting fouled, sophomore Kaleb Wesson went 7 of 10 from the line for 15 points.
In his final game, senior C.J. Jackson led the Buckeyes with 18 points, moving him past 1,000 for his career in the process.
Against one of the nation’s best teams at defending the three, the Buckeyes came out firing – and hitting. When Musa Jallow drilled a three-pointer with 9:53 left in the first half, it gave Ohio State a 24-21 lead and made it 6 for 9 (66.7 percent) from deep. It helped cover for an inability to hold onto the ball – the Buckeyes turned it over on their first three possessions and four of their first five – but it wasn’t sustainable.
With the Cougars taking away Wesson in the paint, that was a problem. Following the Jallow three-pointer, Ohio State went 5:12 without a field goal, missing three shots and turning it over three more times as Houston put together a 10-1 run to push its lead to 31-25 with 5:01 to play.
At the half, it was a 39-31 deficit for the Buckeyes, but they headed into the locker room with some juice. After Woods missed a shot in the paint at the buzzer, multiple players converged right around the free-throw line and ultimately had to be separated. After reviewing the action, the officials issued technical fouls to both Woods and Houston’s DeJon Jarreau.
To that point, they had made eight three-pointers and three field goals from inside the arc. Two of them were on deep jumpers.