How did the Ohio State men’s basketball team find itself in this position?
Fifteen days ago, the Buckeyes held a halftime lead against West Virginia in a game played at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland and had their eyes on improving to 12-1 while closing out the non-conference schedule with a perfect record. Instead, the Buckeyes went ice cold down the stretch, turned the ball over with alarming frequency and took a 67-59 loss to the Mountaineers.
Starting with that date, Ohio State has lost four straight games while failing to top 60 points in any of them and dropped from a No. 2 spot in the Associated Press poll to the real possibility of being unranked in Monday’s update.
So how did we all get here, and so suddenly? The regular season hit the halfway mark at halftime of Tuesday’s road loss to Indiana, but seasons and losing streaks aren’t made in a single day or even week. Here are five moments along the way that spelled looming trouble for the Buckeyes.
1. Ohio State turns the ball over 21 times against…Southeast Missouri?
The Buckeyes had not done a particularly great job at taking care of the basketball during the early portion, but the turnover issue that plagued them throughout the entirety of the previous season seemed to have been most relegated to the record books. Through the first nine games of the year, Ohio State had only turned the ball over nine times in two games, the latter of which was a 32-point win against Penn State.
Then, after turning it over 14 times at Minnesota – tied for the fourth-most in a game this season until that point – the Buckeyes came home to face the final cupcake on the schedule in Southeast Missouri. Looking to get right before heading to Las Vegas to face Kentucky, they instead posted one of the more bizarre stat lines in recent memory.
Against a Redhawks team that is ranked 131rd nationally in defensive turnover percentage, the Buckeyes committed 21 turnovers. Eight of the nine players to log double-digit minutes had at least one turnover with Kaleb Wesson and CJ Walker both leading the way with five apiece.
It wasn’t just that they turned it over 21 times, either. It was the fact that Southeast Missouri only had three steals in the game, illustrating that many of the giveaways were self-inflicted.
Since that game, against obviously better competition, Ohio State has not turned it over less than 14 times in a single game.
2. Duane Washington suffers an injury.
Nobody is exactly sure how it happened, but Duane Washington Jr. went from stepping into the spotlight as the go-to shooter on one of the nation’s hottest teams to the injury report in short order. After going 4 for 6 from three against Penn State, the sophomore missed the next two games with an injury to the cartilage around one of his ribs.
It stalled his momentum, and both Washington and the Buckeyes have been unable to reclaim it. Washington is 7 for 25 from three since his return and, correspondingly, has started to force the issue on offense again in an effort to shoot his way out of a rough patch. That has helped lead to increased issues on the defensive end, culminating with only 8:02 playing time in Saturday’s loss to the Hoosiers. It marked the first time Washington has ever played a game without recording a shot attempt, and it showed that coach Chris Holtmann is willing and ready to send a message to his players: if you don’t do what is asked of you, he won’t play you.
It’s not all on Washington, but if the sophomore was playing at the level he enjoyed prior to the injury, it’s hard to believe Ohio State would be riding a four-game losing streak.
3. A second-half lull against Kent State.
Until playing West Virginia, the Buckeyes had mostly breezed through their non-conference slate with one exception.
Playing inside their former home of St. John Arena, the Buckeyes hosted in-state foe Kent State on Nov. 25. and held a 37-25 halftime lead. It grew to 17 points roughly three minutes into the second half until Kent State, which is winless in two games against top-100 KenPom.com teams and has two wins against teams from outside Division I, put up a dogged fight.
During the next seven minutes, the Golden Flashes put together a 25-8 run during which made only two field goals that tied the game at 48-all with 10:30 to play. A game that looked to have been decided early instead became a dogfight as the offense suddenly struggled in a previously unseen, significant way.
The Buckeyes would rally from there, closing the game on a 23-4 run to win comfortably. But this game was a clear indication that this team wouldn’t be immune to offensive lulls.
4. Kyle Young has to go under the knife.
It had been a concern before the season, but ultimately it was believed and hoped that the junior forward would be able to play the entirety of the season without issues relating to his appendix. Instead, after throwing up multiple times both before and after the West Virginia game, it was clear that Young would have to undergo an appendectomy.
The procedure took place that night, hours after Young had pulled down 11 rebounds against a physically imposing Mountaineers team while gutting out 22 minutes. Like Washington, and senior Andre Wesson before him, Young would miss two games due to the injury.
It’s not certain that his presence would have helped the Buckeyes avoid the loss they took at Maryland last Tuesday. The size and length the Terrapins bring typically presents problems for Young. But it’s hard to fathom Ohio State losing at home to Wisconsin on Jan. 3, a game in which the Badgers had 12 offensive rebounds including five by Tyler Wahl, with Young on the court doing what he does.
That’s just one game, but 12-4 overall and 2-3 in the Big Ten looks a lot better than 11-5 and 1-4, respectively.
5. Minnesota wins convincingly.
When the Buckeyes went to Williams Arena for their second Big Ten game, they were a Sunday night win away from almost assuredly climbing to No. 1 in the nation with a win against a Minnesota team with a sub-.500 record.
The Golden Gophers led for 33:11 against an Ohio State team that, albeit without Washington, was never really in the game and trailed by as many as 18 points. Multiple flag were raised here, from the reality of life on the road in the Big Ten this season to the inability to establish much of a consistent offensive presence.
Ohio State finished the game with an offensive efficiency rating of 97.6 according to KenPom. It was the lowest mark to that point of the season for the Buckeyes, but since then all four losses have been worse-rated. Minnesota showed that the Ohio State offense could be stymied for long stretches, and since that game multiple teams have heeded those lessons.