Moving on: New Ohio State roster puts loss to Oral Roberts in the NCAA Tournament in the past

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch
"Got to be in better shape than I was," Ohio State's E.J. Liddell said at media day when asked what he learned from the team's 75-72 loss to Oral Roberts at the end of last season.

There’s no sugarcoating how last season ended for Ohio State, and the Buckeyes aren’t trying. Ask anyone who was part of the overtime loss to Oral Roberts, only the ninth time a No. 15 seed has beaten a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and they’ll tell you that they have to “own it” and move on.

It’s the phrase coach Chris Holtmann used in the immediate aftermath of the 75-72 loss. But owning that result is tricky when most of the players who participated in the game are gone. Of the 15 players on the 2021-22 roster, only six were on the court that day, and of those six, one played for less than half a minute.

So, sure, a loss that statistically goes down as one of the 10 biggest upsets in March Madness history is going to fester within a fanbase. It will hang around a program to a certain degree. But by and large, this is an Ohio State team that has moved on — because one-third of the key players from that game have physically done so.

“I wouldn’t really say it’s a focus, but you still think back on it from time to time,” fourth-year wing Justin Ahrens, who played 21 minutes in the loss said at Ohio State’s media day. “Like coach tells us, we’ve got to own up to it and control what we can control and take this offseason one day at a time to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

That message was delivered this summer when Holtmann met with his returning players to talk specifically about the game. Newcomers Malaki Branham, Joey Brunk, Kalen Etzler, Cedric Russell and Jamari Wheeler were exempt from attending.

E.J. Liddell played 39 minutes against Oral Roberts. Justice Sueing played 34. Just one other returning player, Ahrens, played more than 20 minutes. Kyle Young (concussion), Jimmy Sotos (shoulder surgery) and Meechie Johnson didn’t play at all.

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Ohio State's Justice Sueing is one of only three Buckeye men's basketball players on this year's roster who saw more than 20 minutes of playing time in the 75-72 loss to Oral Roberts that ended last season.

On the other hand, Duane Washington Jr. played 43 minutes, CJ Walker played 38 and Musa Jallow 32. All of them are no longer with the program.

Asked what he learned about himself from the loss, Liddell said, “Nothing I didn’t already know. Got to be in better shape than I was. Just got to keep improving on my conditioning.”

The loss had something to do with injuries catching up to Ohio State as well. In addition to Young and Sotos being sidelined, Sueing was dealing with a groin injury that required him to keep a hot pack on his lap when he wasn’t playing in order to help keep it loose. That didn’t fully heal for a few months, he said.

“It took a little toll on me, but that’s the choice I made, and we didn’t get the results we wanted to get obviously,” he said. “It was a lot of wear and tear, the long postgame rehab sessions trying to make sure I’m ready for the next day. It was tough, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle. We’ll learn from it.”

Johnson spoke repeatedly at media day about the feeling of seeing his teammates crying after the game, realizing that some of them had played their final time for Ohio State. It was a memory that helped push him through grueling summer workouts.

For Young, the hard part was realizing his absence contributed to the loss.

“Yeah, it was tough,” said Young. “You want to be out there playing with your brothers and giving them everything you’ve got. That was another reason I wanted to get another opportunity to come back this year.”

During their meeting this summer, the Buckeyes who were there drew inspiration from some recent history.

They know Virginia captured the 2018-19 title the season after becoming the first No. 1 seed to ever fall to a No. 16 in a 74-54 shocker at the hands of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County.

“We didn’t talk about it as much, but we did say Virginia went through (almost) what we went through last year,” Johnson said. “It’s tough to win a national championship, but with the players we’ve got this year, we’re going to use it as motivation kind of like Virginia did and try to come back and win a national championship.

“That’s the goal right now.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy