Despite its defensive deficiencies, elite offense was Ohio State’s calling card through the first 15 games of the season.
Take that out of the equation and it’s no wonder the Buckeyes are one loss away from tying the longest losing streak in the Chris Holtmann era.
Even two games into their four-game skid, Ohio State possessed the No. 1 offense in the country, per KenPom’s adjusted efficiency metric. Since then, the Buckeyes have turned in their two worst shooting performances of the season in back-to-back contests. Losses to Minnesota and Rutgers were determined by a total of seven points, and Sunday’s defeat in New Jersey took an extra period to decide. But in terms of consequence, there’s a fine line between a win and a loss.
Ohio State finished with its first sub-40% shooting night of the season in Thursday’s loss to Minnesota, then the only team in the conference without a Big Ten win. It was an uncharacteristically poor showing for the usually dynamic Buckeye offense, particularly on its own home floor. After the fact, Holtmann called it “our poorest offensive game of the year,” and no one disagreed.
Needless to say, Ohio State needed an improved effort in its rematch against Rutgers. That figured to be hard to come by against the best defensive team in the Big Ten, especially given the New Jersey backdrop. Not to mention the controversial ending to the first matchup, which only added more motivation for the home team.
To that end, an 0-for-7 start from the field was a bad omen for the Buckeyes. It seemed Ohio State found its rhythm during a subsequent 15-0 run from 14:55 to 11:08 of the first half, but the momentum was shortlived. Immediately after taking a double-digit lead near the midway point of the opening period, the Buckeyes closed the half with 15 misses on their next 17 shots.
It didn’t get better to start the second half when Ohio State misfired on its first five field goals while Rutgers took a slim lead. Combining those two stretches, the Buckeyes shot 2-for-22 from the final 11 minutes of the first half through the first three minutes and change of the second half.
But Rutgers never ran away with it. The Scarlet Knights shot even worse than Ohio State on the day (33.9%), and the Buckeyes were in the game the whole way. After Brice Sensabaugh tied things up with 49 seconds left in regulation, he even had a chance to hit a go-ahead bucket with two seconds on the clock. It didn’t go down.
Throw out everything that happened in the 40 minutes prior and Ohio State still had a chance to win. In fact, the Buckeyes had a one-point lead with 1:50 to play in overtime. Allowing back-to-back Rutgers buckets on the next two Scarlet Knight possessions sank Ohio State’s chances more than anything, but the Buckeyes’ overtime shot chart may be just as damning.
Ohio State hit just two of its eight attempts from the field in overtime, including a stretch of five straight misses, for a 25% mark that cemented Ohio State’s poorest single-game percentage of the season (34.3%). Move over, Minnesota.
The Buckeyes’ Sunday struggles can’t solely be attributed to their opponent’s stellar defense. In the Dec. 8 matchup with Rutgers, Ohio State shot 46.4% from the floor and 42.1% from 3-point range. At the time, that was Ohio State’s worst collective shooting performance in five games. After the results of the last two games, though, the Buckeyes would take that in a heartbeat.
Nine players attempted at least one shot for Ohio State on Sunday, but only three of them (Sensabaugh, Tanner Holden and Felix Okpara) finished with a field-goal percentage at or above 50%.
Justice Sueing shot just 3-for-10 on the heels of a 4-for-13 performance against Minnesota. Sueing entered the weekend as Ohio State’s second-leading scorer with an average of 14.1 points per game, but finished the Rutgers loss with just seven points.
Sean McNeil tied Zed Key as Ohio State’s second-leading scorer on the day (11 points), but he knocked down only three of his 12 attempts. Bruce Thornton logged the most minutes of any Buckeye (36), but finished with just four points on 2-for-7 shooting. Isaac Likekele, who made his first start in well over a month, missed all five shots he attempted.
Sueing, McNeil, Key, Thornton, Likekele and Eugene Brown combined to shoot just 12-for-46 (26%) from the floor.
Frankly, that’s not going to get it done. Not if the Buckeyes hope to end their losing streak in short order and make noise in the postseason after a promising start to the 2022-23 season.