Brice Sensabaugh: Buckeyes called players-only meeting before Rutgers game
PISCATAWAY, N.J. – In the natural course of postgame video breakdown, the Ohio State coaches and players had some frank discussions after Thursday’s loss to Minnesota.
Then, when the coaches left, the players stayed. The players-only meeting that took place wasn’t enough to prevent the Buckeyes from taking a fourth straight loss, but freshman Brice Sensabaugh said the benefits will help pave the way for success on a team that continues to head toward the Big Ten basement.
“We made it our goal to start now more than ever playing for each other and having each other’s backs and encouraging each other,” he said after a 68-64 loss at Rutgers dropped the Buckeyes to 10-7 overall and 2-4 in the Big Ten. “I think we did that well. I think it paid off this game. We had some good offense and I think we were pretty efficient against a pretty good defensive team. I think it paid off, but we lacked in some areas and against a good team like that it’s going to get you beat.”
It did Sunday, and there’s plenty of time to discuss the areas in which the Buckeyes came up short against the Scarlet Knights. Leading into the game, though, Sensabaugh said nobody specifically called it, just that everybody agreed it needed to happen.
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What transpired next saw every player talk individually about what they were going through after having taken a 70-67 home loss to a Minnesota team that had been winless in Big Ten play.
“It was a bunch of accountability and it’s a brotherly love kind of conversation,” Sensabaugh said. “We had to come together at some point. Stuff like that doesn’t pay off the next day or sometimes you can win and it still hasn’t paid off. I think you just keep building and keep trusting each other and we’ll be fine down the road.”
After leading against Minnesota for only 1:42, and for 6:54 in the prior loss at Maryland on Jan. 8, Ohio State led for 21:41 at Rutgers in a game that featured 12 ties and 22 lead changes. Ultimately, as has been the case during this losing streak, Ohio State came up short late and took another single-digit loss.
The Buckeyes have lost these four games by a combined 16 points. Aside from the seven-point defeat against Maryland, all three losses are by four points or fewer, with two of them ending as one-possession losses.
“I’ve been on teams where we have a losing streak,” third-year center Zed Key said. “We’ve just got to worry about the next one and try to get in the ‘W’ column. We’re going to turn this around and we’ll be fine.”
What gives him that confidence?
“We have a great group of guys,” Key said. “Our team is really talented and hard-working and it showed. It shows what we can do. I’m not worried about that.”
Coach Chris Holtmann said he wasn’t aware of the meeting until it was complete but downplayed its significance.
“I think that happens a number of times throughout the year, sometimes without coaches knowing,” he said. “Our meeting was normal. I think they probably wanted to talk through some things and Justice mentioned that to me.”
Whether it can help change anything remains to be seen. Ohio State plays at Nebraska on Wednesday before returning home to host Iowa and closing the month with road games against Illinois and Indiana.
Sensabaugh, who had his second consecutive double-double while leading the Buckeyes with 20 points and 11 rebounds, said he believes the Buckeyes are close to turning things around.
“I think we’re right there,” he said. “It sounds cliché, but we’ve just got to trust the process and continue playing for each other. That kind of stuff is going to get us rewarded. Just keep playing for each other and have each other’s backs and even if we lose, we lose together. If we win, we win together.
“Whatever happens, we’re together. That’s the most important thing.”
The one play Zed Key wishes he could have back
In a back-and-forth game, Key said there is one play that will stick with him more than any other.
It resulted in the final lead change of the game. With 1:50 remaining in overtime, Sensabaugh had just drawn a foul and hit two free throws to give the Buckeyes a 61-60 lead when the Scarlet Knights got the ball into the hands of starting guard Cam Spencer.
He finished with a game-high 21 points, but on this possession he dished out the game-winning assist to a waiting Cliff Omoruyi, who had managed to establish low-post position on Key.
After finishing with 11 points and nine rebounds, Key was asked if there was a play that stood out to him.
“Me giving up a low post right around the rim,” he said. “On offense, I make those 99% of the time. Defense, that’s on me, and I’ve got to be better. When Cliff got the easy lay. That’s on me. I can’t let him get that deep.”
It was plays like that, not just a few missed shots late, that Holtmann said helped seal his team’s fate.
“The missed shots are fine,” he said. “We had some clean looks we missed. We got the ball where we wanted to and I’m confident those guys will make those plays, but two deep catches in the post late and defensive rebounds that we weren’t able to get.”
Rutgers finished with 14 offensive rebounds, but three of them came in overtime.
Justice Sueing’s double-digit scoring streak ends
Ohio State’s sixth-year forward and one of three team captains, Sueing has shouldered a heavy offensive load in recent weeks and responded by scoring in double figures in seven straight games.
It’s the longest such streak in his two healthy seasons at Ohio State, but it came to an end at Rutgers. In 34:18, Sueing went 3 for 10 from the floor, missed four 3-pointers and finished with 7 points, three rebounds, two assists and a team-high four turnovers.
In his prior seven games, Sueing had averaged 15.9 points per game despite continuing to struggle from deep. A 36.1% 3-point shooter during the 2020-21 season with a 31.3% career mark entering the year, Sueing is shooting 25.5% (12 for 43) this season.
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He’s also had 16 turnovers in the last six games and leads Ohio State with 34 giveaways this year.
“I think it’s just a tough stretch,” Holtmann said when asked about Sueing’s shooting and turnovers. “He had a lot of length on him and wasn’t able to get by guys today. He’s had a tough stretch offensively, but he’ll get it turned around. He had some clean looks. I thought he had a good corner 3. It was a good shot. Just didn’t make it.”
Two of Sueing’s 3-point misses came in overtime. The one Holtmann alluded to came right after Spencer had given Rutgers a 60-59 lead and was a wide open look from the left side.
Balanced shot attempts don’t result in more assists
One game removed from a five-assist effort, Ohio State finished with a single-digit assist total for a third straight game. The Buckeyes had seven assists on 23 made shots and have dropped to next-to-last in Big Ten games in assist rate according to KenPom.com.
“I thought we played together better,” Holtmann said. “Our assist numbers still need to get better, but I thought we played together better. It was a different game in a lot of ways, but I thought our mindset and approach was better maybe than what it had been in the past but we’ll see.
“I just don’t think we moved it as well as we needed to in the previous game or two. That’s a learning opportunity for these guys. The ball didn’t move as well as it needed to. Here, I’ll have to look at it. It can still move better, but we certainly played together better offensively.”
*Ohio State has now lost four straight Big Ten games in four of Holtmann’s six seasons. Just once has that stretched to five games: during the 2018-19 season, when Ohio State lost at home to Michigan State, at Rutgers, at Iowa and then at home to Maryland and Purdue from Jan. 5-23.
That losing streak was snapped at Nebraska.
*Ohio State had a more varied offensive attack than in it prior two games. In the losses to Maryland and Minnesota, Sensabaugh and Justice Sueing attempted 52.1% of the team’s shots (62 of 119) after having taken 36.8% of Ohio State’s shots entering the Maryland game.
Against the Scarlet Knights, Sensabaugh attempted 11 shots and Sueing 10, accounting for 31.3%.
*Ohio State is now 2-4 when scoring 69 points or fewer against Rutgers and 9-1 when scoring 70 points or more.
*The Buckeyes have now lost consecutive games at Jersey Mike's Arena by a combined six points.