Ohio State men's basketball | Illinois postgame blog: Offensive droughts spell doom for Buckeyes
It was a succinct postgame scene Thursday night at Value City Arena.
Not long after Ohio State saw its three-game winning streak extinguished at the hands of a surging Illinois team in a 63-56 loss, the Buckeyes didn’t have a lot of words to describe what had just transpired. Junior forward Andre Wesson, Sunday’s star at Indiana who threw down the game-winning dunk in the final seconds, was the lone player representative sent out to address the media. His press conference lasted roughly four minutes and would best be described as emotional.
Then it was time for coach Chris Holtmann, who in roughly six minutes took 11 questions, answered crisply but politely while using a total of 411 words. I don’t track these things, but it felt like the shortest press conference of the season, and it probably was.
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Sometimes there’s just not a whole lot that can be said. Thursday night, Illinois was the better team. Ohio State led for only 4:16, trailed for 30:13 and could not overcome multiple significant scoring droughts in what was statistically its worst offensive performance of the season.
“A loss is a loss,” Holtmann said. “People look at it differently. Disappointed after every loss, whoever it is, whatever time it is, whatever point in the season.”
Much like in Sunday’s win at Indiana, the Buckeyes went through some significant scoring droughts tonight. The difference this time was that Illinois is a better team than Indiana, which might sound odd to read but is clearly a truth to anyone who has watched those teams recently.
So what happened in those second-half droughts?
The first started with 13:02 to play in the game, when C.J. Jackson’s old-fashioned three-point play pulled the Buckeyes even with the Illini at 40. It felt like a tipping point, a chance for Ohio State to mount a run and take control.
Instead, it would be 3:20 before they would score again, and by that point they were trailing by four points. Following Jackson’s three-point play, the Buckeyes got a missed floater from the senior, then had him lose the ball out of bounds for his seventh turnover on the next possession. Kaleb Wesson missed a three-pointer on the next possession, and Kyle Young was called for a foul on the offensive rebound leading into a media timeout.
Duane Washington Jr., who would later electrify the crowd, then missed a wide-open three-pointer from the left corner. It was an airball, and it turned into a fast-break layup for Andres Feliz at the other end. Luther Muhammad would miss a three-pointer before Washington broke the drought with 9:42 to play with a dunk to make it a 44-42 Illinois lead.
Barely a minute later, Washington threw down a highlight-reel dunk with 8:30 left and was fouled in the process. He hit the free throw, putting Ohio State ahead 45-44, but Illinois quickly answered when Ayo Dosunmu drew a foul on Kaleb Wesson and hit both free throws with 8:15 to play.
The Buckeyes would never lead again, and it was the start of another crippling drought. This one lasted for 2:48 and was broken with 5:42 to play when Keyshawn Woods hit the second of two free throws. In between, Andre Wesson missed a layup, Washington missed a three-pointer, Giorgi Bezhanishvili blocked Muhammad in the paint and Muhammad hit Kaleb Wesson in the back with a pass he never saw coming.
Woods finally broke the spell with the free throw that made it a 48-46 Illinois lead, but then Dosunmu hit a three-pointer and the Buckeyes would never again have the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead.
“We got good looks,” Andre Wesson said. “We got a lot of looks right there at the basket; we’ve just got to convert them. We didn’t.”
The droughts back up what some of the analytics tell us about this team’s offense: things aren’t exactly humming along. Ohio State finished with an offensive efficiency rating of 93.1 in the win against Indiana, which was the third-lowest of the season. Against the Illini, it was 83.6, which was only better than the loss at Michigan.
Drop-off for Woods
Keyshawn Woods was adamant in the hallway at the United Center after the win against the Illini on Dec. 5. The graduate transfer guard had in many ways carried the Buckeyes to a 77-67 win, scoring a season-high 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting and taking two key charges to fire up his teammates.
Woods had seemingly been picking and choosing when to be aggressive to that point in the season, and afterward he said it was clear this was how he had to play going forward.
It was an interaction I kept flashing back to as the Buckeyes floundered against the Fighting Illini in the rematch: at what point would Woods, who really helped settle Ohio State in the first game, do it again?
That time never came. In 24:59, Woods was 1 for 6 from the floor, 1 for 2 from the free-throw line and had four rebounds, three assists and two turnovers to finish with three points. It was almost fitting that, trailing by six in the final seconds, Woods turned the ball over on Ohio State’s final possession to remove any doubt.
I asked Holtmann about Woods and how he took over the first game.
“Obviously we need that from him,” Holtmann said. “He had a little bit of a tough night, but he’ll bounce back.”
His recent numbers might imply otherwise. Since that breakout game against the Illini, Woods has averaged 5.4 points per game, had two games where he hasn’t made a field goal and now six games where he’s had more turnovers than made field goals.
Best and worst
It was an odd night for Jackson, who at times seemed to be Ohio State’s best player and at other times just had to come out of the game. He finished with a game-high 17 points, but his seven turnovers tied a career high.
Despite the turnovers, he finished with a minus-1 plus-minus rating.
“He was better off the ball, and he was better off the ball when we played them last time,” Holtmann said. “He got himself into some difficult decisions with the ball. Seven turnovers is a lot. I don’t question how hard he competed. I thought he competed, just those turnovers were critical.”
*Kaleb Wesson finished with only three field-goal attempts from inside the paint and struggled against Bezhanishvili, who scored the first seven points of the second half for Illinois and finished with 13 on 6-of-9 shooting. Wesson fouled out of the game with 2:19 to play, finishing with 11 points and five rebounds.
Holtmann was asked if the Buckeyes missed opportunities to get Wesson the ball inside or if Illinois just took him away as an option.
“I’ll have to look at it, but it was probably a combination of both,” he said. “We’ll look at it and hopefully as coaches try to put him in better position.”
*Ohio State finished 2 for 13 from three, good for 15.4 percent. The Buckeyes were 7 for 16 (43.8 percent) against Indiana. This was the second-worst three-point effort of the season, better than only a 3 for 20 performance (15.0 percent) against Samford in the fifth game of the year.
“I thought some of them were clean,” Holtmann said of his team’s three-point shooting. “I thought some of them were rushed. I thought they did a good job taking us out of our offense.”
*The Buckeyes committed 18 turnovers that Illinois turned into 14 points. However, they only had two in the final 12:07.
“We just tried to keep it more simple, more high ball screens and play off of that,” Andre Wesson said. “Keeping it more simple, that eliminated more of the turnovers.”
There was a reminder of last year’s success seated behind the Ohio State bench during the first half. With the NBA taking a break for the all-star game, Minnesota rookie Keita Bates-Diop was in attendance for tonight’s game and was introduced to the crowd during a first-half timeout.
Last year, he put up a career-high 35 points in a win at Value City Arena against the Illini. Holtmann could’ve used him tonight.
I tried to catch up with Bates-Diop at the half, but he had disappeared and wasn’t in his seat for the second half.
“This started yesterday. This was all permeated out of our locker room. Our guys all wore suit and ties today on the trip. It was a businesslike approach. This building has been very, very difficult for us. I’m really proud. It was a team effort to hold a very good team that’s been shooting the cover off of it to two field goals in the last eight minutes, we won this with good old-fashioned grit and defense. We made plays.” – Illinois coach Brad Underwood