Ohio State's Loss to No. 15 Seed Oral Roberts an Unprecedented Defeat in Buckeyes' NCAA Tournament History

By Dan Hope on March 19, 2021 at 7:59 pm
Zed Key and Duane Washington Jr.
Joshua Bickel – USA TODAY Sports

Before Friday, Ohio State had never lost to a team lower than a No. 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament. That changed in a big way against Oral Roberts.

The Golden Eagles’ 75-72 overtime win over the Buckeyes was just the ninth time in NCAA Tournament history that a 15 seed beat a 2 seed, and from a seeding perspective, easily Ohio State’s worst loss in the Big Dance.

Before Friday, Ohio State had only lost four times in the first round of the NCAA Tournament since the tournament began seeding teams. The Buckeyes lost to 9 seed James Madison as an 8 seed in 1982, to 12 seed Utah State (also in overtime) as a 5 seed in 2001, to 9 seed Siena as an 8 seed (in double overtime) in 2009 and to 11 seed Dayton in 2014.

Ohio State's First-Round Losses in the NCAA Tournament (Seeding Era)
Year Seed Opponent Score
1982 8 #9 JAMES MADISON 55-48
2001 5 #12 UTAH STATE 77-68 (OT)
2009 8 #9 SIENA 74-72 (2OT)
2014 6 #11 DAYTON 60-59
2021 2 #15 ORAL ROBERTS 75-72 (OT)

In its previous NCAA Tournament appearances as a top-two seed, the only other time the Buckeyes lost in the first two rounds came in 2006, when they suffered a 70-52 upset loss to Georgetown in the second round.

According to Odds Shark’s historical odds database, which includes games dating back to 2000, Friday’s game was also the first time Ohio State – which closed as a 15-point favorite over Oral Roberts – lost in the NCAA Tournament as a double-digit betting favorite. In nine previous games as a double-digit favorite, Ohio State won by at least 17 points seven times, the only exceptions being a pair of single-digit wins over Davidson (69-64 in 2002 and 70-62 in 2006). (Note: Ohio State's 2001 loss to Utah State is not included in the database, and Eleven Warriors was unable to find a historical betting line for that game, so it's unclear how much the Buckeyes were favored by in that game.)

Simply put, Ohio State wasn’t supposed to come close to losing on Friday. Even though there were certainly some warning signs surrounding this year's Buckeyes entering the tournament – and ESPN's Joe Lunardi correctly predicted an Oral Roberts win – there's still no real excuse for losing to a mid-major team that went just 16-10 before the tournament. 

“I think anytime you're a 2 seed, that kind of speaks for itself,” Chris Holtmann said. “I thought our guys had a terrific season. This is obviously a really, really bitter end to a terrific season. We'll own that and accept it and we'll move forward.”

Now, instead of preparing to play Florida in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday, the Buckeyes head back to Columbus with the weight of suffering one of the most disappointing losses in program history. Despite earning its highest seed in the Big Dance since 2013, Ohio State suffered an earlier exit from the tournament than each of its last three appearances in March Madness, including two previous trips under Holtmann.

While Oral Roberts’ upset win makes the Golden Eagles the early Cinderella of this year’s tournament and is certainly a victory that will go down in that program’s lore, it’s a game that will also be remembered by Buckeye fans for years to come as a historically bad letdown.

“We all have to be responsible for not quite getting it done, and it begins with me, first and foremost with me,” Holtmann said. “Obviously you’re a 2 seed for a reason … By and large, it was a special year with a conclusion that is one we’ve gotta lean into. It’s incredibly disappointing.”

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