Magic runs out for Ohio State in Big Ten Tournament semifinal loss to No. 1 seed Purdue
CHICAGO – Justice Sueing stood at midcourt awaiting the ball with a smile on his face.
The second half of Saturday afternoon's Big Ten Tournament semifinal game was about to get underway, and No. 13 seed Ohio State was leaking oil, if not already out of gas. An unprecedented run in the tournament had come at a cost, and although the Buckeyes had led No. 1 seed Purdue for much of the first half, the writing looked to be on the wall.
Purdue led 42-34, but as Sueing prepared to receive the ball from the referee he looked across the court, surveyed his teammates and clapped. The sixth-year forward and team captain was ready for what was to come, and he still hoped to be on this court again Sunday playing for an NCAA Tournament berth.
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It wasn't meant to be. Ohio State is the first Big Ten team to play in Wednesday's opening round to reach the weekend fell, but the Buckeyes fell short of reaching the title game as OSU (16-19) bowed out of the tournament with an 80-66 semifinal loss to the Boilermakers (28-5).
True to late-season form, the Buckeyes kept coming. With 5:43 remaining, Felix Okpara drew the first foul of the game on Purdue's Zach Edey, hit one of two free throws and pulled the Buckeyes within 61-55. And when Edey missed at the other end, Ohio State had a chance to pull even closer only to have Bruce Thornton's jumper from the left elbow hit the rim and bounce out.
Edey then drew a foul away from the ball, hit two free throws and pushed it back to an eight-point game, moving him to 29 points and 10 rebounds to that point.
"They’re a little undersized, so they had to play physical," Edey said. "But that’s going to lead to fouls, and they got into foul trouble and I was able to take advantage of that."
The rest was academic as Purdue advanced to the title game for the second straight year.
Edey was the difference. Ohio State hit shots early but tired legs failed them late, and the big man just kept coming. He finished with 32 points on 12-of-25 shooting. Roddy Gayle led Ohio State with 20 points and Sueing added 15.
The 19 losses are the most for Ohio State since the 1997-98 Buckeyes went 8-22 overall and 1-15 in the Big Ten.
Barring a trip to the NIT or CBI, the loss means the end of Sean McNeil, Isaac Likekele and Sueing’s Ohio State tenures. It also starts the clock for Brice Sensabaugh, Ohio State’s leading scorer and a projected first-round NBA draft pick who will have a decision to make. He missed the game against Purdue, his second straight following a season-ending knee injury suffered in Thursday's win against No. 5 seed Iowa.
Decisions could also be coming for end-of-the-bench players Tanner Holden, Kalen Etzler and Bowen Hardman, all three of whom were lightly used as the season progressed. Despite missing out on the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2017, coach Chris Holtmann will return for a seventh season after both receiving a vote of confidence from athletic director Gene Smith and publicly stating that he “absolutely” plans to remain with the program.
Smith told The Dispatch on Friday that, win or lose, he feels the NIT should consider the Buckeyes for an at-large bid despite their sub-.500 record.
As expected from the tournament’s top seed, Purdue came out firing and took control early. And as has come to be expected from the tournament’s second-lowest seed, Ohio State took the blow, responded and settled in. The Boilermakers had a 10-4 lead before the first media timeout and led 17-13 after Edey fed Caleb Furst for a dunk, but that’s where Gayle started to take over with a barrage of 3s.
He hit one in the right corner to cap a string of six straight Ohio State possessions with points, and when he swished one from the right wing on a cross-court pass from Likekele, it pulled Ohio State even for the first time at 19-all with 12:39 to play. That marked the start of a 10-0 run that was bookended by another Gayle 3 – his fourth of the game – that made it a 26-19 Ohio State lead at the midpoint of the half.
But when Edey checked back in with 9:59 remaining, the Boilermakers started using his size and physical dominance to grind the Buckeyes down. He helped flip the score when, as Braden Smith was hitting a jumper, Edey was pulled to the deck by Ohio State’s Gene Brown III. The 6-7, 195-pound wing was assessed a Flagrant 1 foul for a hook and hold, giving Edey two free throws and allowing Purdue to maintain possession.
He hit the free throws, then scored on the ensuing possession to make it a six-point trip down the court for Purdue and turning a 31-27 Ohio State lead into a 33-31 advantage. Gayle would answer with another 3, his fifth on as many tries to that point, but it was the lone Ohio State make in the final 6:47 of the half. As Purdue turned up its defense, the Buckeyes would turn it over five times during that stretch and limp into the half trailing 42-34.
The Boilermakers closed the half on a 17-3 run aided by a quick Likekele miss on a floater that left Purdue plenty of time for one final shot, which David Jenkins Jr. buried from straight-on from 3-point range in the final seconds.