WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — As the horn sounded for the under-8 media timeout Thursday night, Ohio State found itself in an unusual position.
The Buckeyes had been in relatively similar spots before, surely, but not this particular scenario. At least not for quite some time, anyway. Not on the road against a top-25 opponent.
But Ohio State was there against Purdue in front of a raucous crowd at Mackey Arena on Thursday night. The Boilermakers were ahead, 53-52, but the Buckeyes were in it. They were in the game, late in the second half, with a chance to win.
But after Purdue knocked in a couple of free throws to extend its lead to three points, then got a stop at the other end of the floor, P.J. Thompson, the Boilermakers backup point guard, knocked in a backbreaking 3-pointer after a mad scramble to put his team ahead by six.
Ohio State couldn’t overcome that shot and Purdue outscored the Buckeyes 18-10 over the final six minutes of the game to earn a 75-64 victory. It marked the second-straight loss for Ohio State in the Big Ten as the Buckeyes fell to 12-8 overall on the season and 4-3 in the league.
“I thought that [Purdue] hit some big, big shots,” Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said afterward. “I thought we competed harder, but they definitely made the plays down the stretch.”
Thursday’s game was much different than the Buckeyes’ previous two road trips in the Big Ten, but the end result was still the same. Ohio State had lost its last two league games on the road leading into Thursday night by a combined 60 points. That wasn’t going to be the case against the Boilermakers, but the Buckeyes simply didn’t have enough down the stretch to change the outcome.
“That was our whole deal in practice this week just to make sure we come out and compete,” said sophomore forward Jae’Sean Tate, who finished with a team-high 17 points and 10 rebounds. “We’ve just got to learn how to continue to do that and play smarter at the end of the games when possessions are important.”
Ohio State led 36-33 at halftime despite committing eight first-half turnovers. The Buckeyes, sparked by Kam Williams and A.J. Harris, shot 52 percent from the floor and connected on 6-of-9 attempts from behind the 3-point line in the opening 20 minutes.
That wasn’t going to carry over into the second half, though. Not on the road against Purdue — one of the Big Ten’s best defensive teams.
And as the Boilers locked in on the defensive end, the Buckeyes became rattled. JaQuan Lyle committed a critical turnover with 2 minutes, 19 seconds remaining in a three-point game and Ohio State lost Thompson again for an uncontested 3-pointer that was the ultimate dagger as it put Purdue ahead by eight with just over one minute to play.
The Buckeyes were right there with a chance to pull off an upset, but just didn’t respond the way they needed to down the stretch, plain and simple.
“We just failed to execute as a team down the stretch in crucial moments,” Williams said. “They didn’t really do anything different, we just didn’t execute down the stretch.”
Ohio State is a young team; that’s not a secret. And perhaps that can be used as an excuse even though it shouldn’t be. The Buckeyes don’t believe in moral victories; they don’t get you anything.
And while this was certainly a more encouraging performance from Ohio State on the road against a quality opponent, we’re approaching the point in the season where that’s not going to matter much anymore. The Buckeyes need to start finding a way to win some of these games.
Ohio State’s next chance will be Monday at home against Penn State. The Buckeyes have to win that game before traveling to Illinois on Thursday — another game they should win. Then, Ohio State hosts Maryland a week from Sunday.
The clock is ticking for the Buckeyes. If they want to salvage this season it has to start soon.
“We’re going to take the positives and see what negatives we have and get ready for Penn State,” Tate said.