Ohio State's loss to Penn State on Friday night in Madison Square Garden meant the Buckeyes were sent home from the Big Ten Tournament after just one game for the second straight season.
This year, however, the Scarlet and Gray still have more to play for.
Last season's first-round loss to Rutgers in the conference tournament ultimately ended Ohio State's 2016-17 campaign, which ended the Thad Matta era in Columbus. This season, however, has seen a drastic turnaround for the Buckeyes, despite struggles against the Nittany Lions.
As of Saturday night, Ohio State was still projected as a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament by ESPN's Joe Lunardi, despite the 69-68 loss to Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals. Unlike last year, the Buckeyes know there is still more to play for this season, which is a welcome challenge for players like senior Jae'Sean Tate, who has only played in the Big Dance once in his four-year career.
"We've got to learn from this one, because it's do or die. Your next game could be your last, and is going to be your last if you lose," Tate said after the loss to Penn State. "There's only three or four guys in this room that have been able to say they've danced. Everybody who knows about dancing knows it's a whole different energy and environment in March. We have got to be prepared."
Under first-year coach Chris Holtmann, energy has been one thing Ohio State has not lacked much in 2017-18. A year after energy and effort was questioned by many, the Buckeyes have proven this season that they are a team that will bring more tenacity almost every night.
Even in the loss to the Nittany Lions, Holtmann said he was pleased with the way his team fought, down to the very last possession, something he knew his team would do because of the way they have performed all year.
"I thought we showed some real grit to us coming back after being down like we were. I don't want to minimize the effort there," Holtmann said Friday. "You expect that from this team. You don't expect it from every team, and that was good to see."
Ohio State has found ways to bounce back from losses this season under Holtmann, and the first year Buckeye coach has plenty of experience moving on from disappointing conference tournament losses, and turning in solid performances in the NCAA's.
“Everybody who knows about dancing knows it's a whole different energy and environment in March. We have got to be prepared.”– Jae'Sean Tate on the NCAA Tournament
While at Butler, Holtmann went 0-3 in the Big East Tournament (also played at Madison Square Garden), yet compiled a 4-3 record in the NCAA Tournament, including a Sweet 16 appearance last season with the Bulldogs.
The difference this year, however, is Ohio State has a two-week layoff until its next game due to the conference tournament being moved up a week to play in New York City. Holtmann said prior to the Big Ten Tournament that he spoke with Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens about managing the layoff, and added Friday that his team will get presented with a schedule as soon as they arrive back in Columbus.
"We will have a plan in place starting tomorrow," Holtmann said Friday.
While players like Tate, Keita Bates-Diop and Kam Williams have limited NCAA Tournament experience, much of Ohio State's roster has none. Sophomore center Micah Potter said after the loss to Penn State that he is anxious to move on from the loss and begin preparation for the Big Dance, a tournament not many thought Ohio State would be playing in this season.
"I think this game will just motivate us moving forward," Potter said. "I am looking forward to making a run. This team is capable of making a deep run in the tournament, and I look forward to that."