Lincoln, Neb. – Ohio State has never seen a losing streak like this.
Yes, the Buckeyes have had long stretches without a win. Think back to Jim O’Brien’s first season, when the Buckeyes went winless from December 22-February 21 while swinging through a 17-game winning streak. But included there, once in every two games, was a big loss—a 27-point loss to New Mexico State, an 18-point loss to Michigan, a 32-point loss to Purdue.
This team, though, didn’t have a clunker like that. With each loss hurting the hopes of the NCAA Tournament and the morale of the program, the Buckeyes kept things close and lost every game by single digits. After Tuesday’s 63-60 loss at Nebraska, no team in Ohio has had consecutive single-digit losses, creating a conundrum as the Buckeyes simultaneously seem on the verge of breaking through and miles away from doing so.
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“I think 40 minutes is just what we’re talking about,” assistant coach Mike Nitti said Friday. “Sometimes it’s easy to pick out a bad call at the end of the game or a hard shot that a kid hits or a turnover here. Those are the obvious mistakes, but the 40 minutes is what we focus on. If we can clean up a few offensive mistakes and a couple of defensive mistakes in each half, This five-match swing is a little different.”
It’s not this losing streak that makes the point either. This team will host Iowa State on Saturday while boasting a 2-8 record in games decided by 15 points or less. The only double-digit loss of the season was an 11-point defeat against San Diego State in the first round of the Maui Invitational on November 21.
Otherwise, it’s a series of late-play errors. A three-point lead with 30 seconds left resulted in a two-point loss for Purdue. A two-point lead with two seconds left against North Carolina at Madison Square Garden became the overtime loss. Missing a 3-pointer in the final seconds of regulation resulted in an overtime loss at Rutgers. Missing a 3-pointer at the buzzer in Nebraska could force overtime.
Instead, the Buckeyes are scrambling for answers, a search highlighted by the inability to close games. Not only did Ohio State have problems in the final seconds, but in the eight losses, Ohio State entered a media timeout under the age of four with only the lead once. The Buckeyes led North Carolina by 1 point with 3:36 remaining and tied the game at Rutgers with 3:28 to play.
“It hurts,” Nitti said. “It hurts to be in it. There’s no doubt, there’s no hiding it. It hurts to see those guys’ mistakes and ours. We all have to be better. Maybe you win the overtime game. Maybe Price hits the ball against Rutgers and you win a couple of those. Well, There are still some areas in the first half and the second half that we have to clean up.”
Otherwise, Ohio State would have had to try to rally in the final minutes and come away with a flop. The movement of the ball was a contributing factor: until the Nebraska game, Ohio State had not had an assist after the final media timeout in any of its losses. The Buckeyes assisted on 45.7% of their shots before the 4’s timeout expired and 10.5% thereafter. Opponents, conversely, have assisted on 63.6% of their shots after timeouts under 4 vs Ohio State.
The Buckeyes have shot 40.4% (19-for-47) overall after the last media timeout while allowing opponents to shoot 42.3% (11-for-26). Ohio State’s shooting was generally more difficult: the Buckeyes made two field goals on 19 goals (10.5%) while opponents caught seven assists on 11 goals (63.6%).
Otherwise, Ohio State shot 47.0% from the floor leading into the final minutes while allowing teams to shoot 40.3%.
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Three-point shooting was another story. Ohio State is 6-for-13 (46.2%) after the under-4 timeout and 127-for-335 (37.9%) over the rest of the games.
Transitions were also a problem. Ohio State had seven timeouts after the final media timeout—two by Sean McNeil, one by Rudy Gayle, Tanner Holden, Bryce Sensabaugh, Justice Swing, and a shot clock violation, while only Nebraska (two) and Duke (one) have converted against the Buckeyes In the same part of the game.
Ohio State had no turnovers under 4 against Rutgers or Nebraska.