CLEVELAND — Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse is a host site for the opening rounds of the 2020 NCAA Tournament, and a coveted landing spot for an Ohio State team in early pole position for a No. 1 seed.
On Sunday, the second-ranked Buckeyes faced No. 22 West Virginia in front of 16,781 for a neutral-court game that felt every bit like a tournament preview. And with a chance to close off their first undefeated nonconference slate in six years, Ohio State (11-2) was held to five second-half field goals and committed a season-high 22 turnovers as the Mountaineers (12-1) pulled away for a 67-59 win.
Even with a 40-34 lead moments into the second half, Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said he never felt comfortable because of how West Virginia’s style impacts games.
"There’s a lot of ebbs and flows in their games," Holtmann said of the Mountaineers. "There always is, so I didn’t ever feel like it was in hand one way or the other."
It wasn’t the only loss the Buckeyes took Sunday. Junior forward Kyle Young, who played 22 minutes and pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds, threw up both before and after the game with what the team doctors felt was a touch of the flu until further examination had him returning to Columbus with an admitting diagnosis of appendicitis.
Young could be facing an appendectomy Monday and would likely miss Friday’s return to Big Ten play when the Buckeyes host Wisconsin.
"It was touch-and-go with him," Holtmann said outside the team locker room before team orthopedist Dr. Grant Jones walked past him, gestured to his midsection and mouthed the word "appendix," prompting Holtmann to reply, "Is that right?" and take a second to collect his thoughts.
Leading 37-31 at the break, the Buckeyes opened the second half by missing eight of their first nine shots. More glaring, they endured a stretch of five straight possessions with turnovers, allowing the Mountaineers to fashion a 10-2 run and take a 41-40 lead on a Miles McBride jumper with 13:28 to play.
Andre Wesson would briefly give the Buckeyes a lead at 54-53 with 4:40 to play on a three-pointer — his only points of the game — but West Virginia would counter with an 8-0 run to push it out of reach. The Mountaineers hit 8 of 20 threes (40%) after shooting 31.1% through their first 11 games.
"We had the lead and our execution just kind of went downhill," junior guard CJ Walker said. "It’s a game of runs, and their runs were longer than ours."
The Buckeyes hung in thanks to their free-throw shooting: Ohio State was 21 of 29 from the line, led by Kaleb Wesson’s 10-for-15 effort. He finished with a team-high 17 points but was 3 of 11 from the field.
It marked the 871st career win for West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. An Ohio State assistant coach from 1978-80, he downplayed any extra significance of beating the Buckeyes.
"I can’t afford to get wrapped in worrying about just one particular team because we play a lot of good people," he said.