Ohio State’s Second-Half Resilience Softens Blow of Last-Second Loss Against Purdue

By Griffin Strom on January 30, 2022 at 5:28 pm
E.J. Liddell

Six minutes into the second half, it was a wrap.

Purdue went up 20 with 14:35 to play in front of a roaring home crowd at Mackey Arena, and things had completely gotten away from Ohio State. Fourteen minutes and nine seconds later, the Buckeyes found themselves in a tied game with a chance to get one last defensive stop to send the Boilermakers into overtime.

That final possession didn’t go the Buckeyes’ way, as Jaden Ivey put a halt to Ohio State’s comeback bid with a dagger 3-pointer from the wing, but that might be beside the point.

As disappointing as any Big Ten loss is for Chris Holtmann and company, the Buckeyes showed a resolve in the latter stages of Sunday’s contest that is sure to help soften the blow. Flaws were evident in Ohio State’s performance, to be sure, and the issues may very well plague the Buckeyes in their quest for the conference crown. But as far as a last-second loss goes, this one had something of a silver lining for the scarlet and gray.

“I’d have been really disappointed if we didn’t fight through the final buzzer,” Holtmann said after the game. “I would have been devastated, because that can’t be who we ever are. So, glad we did.”

Ohio State looked overmatched early. Despite keeping it relatively close by the halfway point, it was clear that Purdue’s inside-outside duo of Ivey and 7-foot-4 center Zach Edey might be too potent for the Buckeyes to keep up with.

Four different Buckeye big men picked up at least four fouls trying to guard Edey, who shot 11 free throws by the end of the game, and Ivey scored eight points in his first six minutes of action to foreshadow another big day for the Boilermakers’ leading scorer.

That pair combined to score 41 points before all was said and done, and given the rest of the talent on the roster, that would figure to be enough to handily put away most teams in the country. For a while on Sunday, it appeared that was exactly what the outcome would be.

“(Edey) is a load. And the way they shoot it at all four spots makes it difficult," Holtmann said. "Matt’s always run, for years, run great actions for all their bigs. We’ve seen them for years, whether it’s at Butler or here coaching against him. They always run actions to get the bigs in great spots. Obviously I think he’s the best of their bigs that I’ve coached against.”

The Boilermakers opened the second half on an 8-0 run to put the Buckeyes down 17, and Purdue proceeded to score 13 of the first 15 points of the period. On the other side, Ohio State missed all but three of its first 11 field-goal attempts to start the second half.

Before hitting a layup at the 9:38 mark, E.J. Liddell had just six points for the game on 2-for-10 shooting. Freshman guard Malaki Branham, who led the Buckeyes with 11 points in the first half, had just two points in the second half until the final four minutes of the contest. That pair came up huge down the stretch for Ohio State, but the Buckeyes chipped away at the daunting Boilermaker deficit with contributions from a couple of bench players.

Cedric Russell and Eugene Brown combined to score 14 of 20 points for Ohio State from 13:55 to 7:06, a stretch where the Buckeyes made up considerable ground. Through roughly the same period, Purdue missed nine of its 11 shot attempts. The next basket for Ohio State following that run from Russell and Brown made it a nine-point game, and the Buckeyes continued shaving into the Boilermaker lead from there.

“Cedric got us rolling a little bit, gave us some confidence,” Holtmann said. “We played more aggressively in the second half, with 15 minutes to go, which we needed to. … (Russell and Brown) have been good during this stretch of games here. Those guys have been pretty consistent, so hopefully they can continue to build off of it and continue to give us a real lift.”

Ohio State persevered through a number of answers from Purdue that felt like they would be the final straw for the Buckeyes’ comeback attempt, and by the time Branham and Liddell got cooking late, they seemed poised to steal a game they had appeared destined to lose.

Branham scored nine straight points for Ohio State from 3:37 to 1:46, and his final bucket in that stretch put the Buckeyes down just six points. Liddell took it from there, hitting a jumper and then back-to-back 3-pointers in the final 34 seconds to tie things up at 78-all. But Ivey made the final shot to give Purdue a three-point win.

Even so, Liddell said the Buckeyes showed resilience in a losing effort, which was a promising sign for a group that has struggled on the road this season.

“I feel like they blitzed us in the beginning of the second half and we just got to be better than that, honestly,” Liddell said. “We put ourselves in a hole, and to fight all the way back, if we would’ve played like that throughout the course of the game, all 40 minutes, we would’ve been in a good spot.”

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