As far as home environments go in the Big Ten, the Schottenstein Center isn’t considered among the most raucous. Not by a long shot.
But when Bruce Thornton rose up and rejected what might have been the game-winning shot of Thursday night’s Minnesota matchup, the reaction from Buckeye fans was loud enough to mute the sound of the referee’s whistle momentarily. Upon realizing a foul was called, they only got louder. Even more so after a slow-motion replay was shown on the big screen at the Schott.
Bruce Thorntons clean block is instead called a foul, leading to Minnesotas game-winning free throw with 1.7 seconds remaining.— Josh Poloha (@JorshP) January 13, 2023
College coaches should be allowed to challenge a call like NBA coaches can. pic.twitter.com/ywt8uj3X9s
It was a crucial call. The game was tied 67-all with 8.6 seconds to play after Brice Sensabaugh scored five straight points in 23 seconds to bring the Buckeyes back from the brink of defeat. One more stop and Ohio State could either have sent it to overtime with momentum on its side or even had a chance to win it on one last shot in regulation.
And for a split second, it looked as though the Buckeyes got that stop. There wasn’t much contact between Thornton and Minnesota guard Ta’lon Cooper unless you’re talking about the freshman’s hand and the ball. But the foul was called nonetheless, and even after Cooper missed the first throw, he effectively won the game on the second attempt.
The Ohio State faithful in attendance were groaning about the call well after the final buzzer sounded in the 70-67 Buckeye loss, which was the program’s third in a row and second straight at home. Chris Holtmann and Co. might have disagreed with the whistle, but they didn’t act as though it cost them the game.
That’s because, frankly, they played too poorly for too much of the evening to get away with doing so.
“It looked like a clean block. But we shouldn't have had ourselves in that position,” Holtmann said in his postgame press conference. “Officials made the call.”
When Ohio State hit just 35.3% of its shots in the first half, it was on pace to blow its previous worst shooting night of the season out of the water. But surely at home against the last-place team in the Big Ten, the Buckeyes would turn things around dramatically in the second half.
Ohio State did shoot it better in the final 20 minutes, but only marginally. The Buckeyes finished with a 37.5% rate from the field, which was lower than any previous 2022-23 contest by several percentage points. Ohio State’s two leading scorers on the season were chief among the offensive issues.
Sensabaugh finished with a team-high 18 points as he nearly willed Ohio State to victory in the closing moments, but it took him 18 shot attempts to get there. The freshman hit just six of those for the night, and his combination of poor looks and inconsistent defense saw him benched at the start of the second half. Sensabaugh didn’t see the floor until nearly seven minutes passed in the final frame.
“We got to figure out how to not get it to that point. We shouldn't have to wait to put it in the ref's hands (on the) last possession of the game."– Isaac Likekele
Justice Sueing played four more minutes than Sensabaugh, but he was even less effective. The sixth-year forward hit just four of his 13 shot attempts to finish with 13 points, and his defense on the contest’s most important sequence was actually what freed Cooper up for an open look in the first place. Before Thornton came over to help, Sueing had his ankles snatched on a between-the-legs, change-of-direction crossover-dribble from the Minnesota guard. Sueing had only just gotten back up off the floor by the time Thornton met Cooper at the rim.
“We're obviously not guarding great. We're not playing well enough together,” Holtmann said. “This was our poorest offensive game of the year. So there's a lot to clean up there. … It was our worst offensive game of the year. Give them credit. I thought them going under ball screens bothered us.”
Holtmann harped on his offensive performance most of all after the game, and for a good reason. Even after back-to-back losses leading into Thursday night’s tip-off, Ohio State possessed the best offense in the country in terms of adjusted efficiency, per KenPom. But given the high volume of questionable shots, contested attempts and sloppy possessions, the Buckeyes may be trending in the other direction in that category come Friday morning.
But it’s not as though Ohio State had many positive takeaways on defense, either. Minnesota entered the game with the lowest-scoring offense in the Big Ten and doubled as the second-least efficient team in the conference regarding field-goal percentage. The Gophers finished the game with nearly six more points than they averaged coming in and shot the ball almost 7% better.
Ohio State’s biggest defensive issue was Minnesota big man Dawson Garcia, who finished with a whopping 28 points on 9-for-15 shooting, went to the free-throw line 11 times and pulled down nine rebounds. Had Zed Key been sidelined, as many expected coming into the week, perhaps Ohio State would’ve had a better excuse for Garcia’s performance. But Key played 30 minutes on Thursday, which Holtmann said was a mistake due to a lack of continuity in the lineup.
The Buckeyes’ best defensive play of the night won’t go down as one. Instead, it was the foul that sealed the victory for Minnesota. But in a game where so much went wrong on Ohio State's end, Holtmann and the Buckeyes may have an easier time looking past an officiating error and focusing on their own.
“To me, it doesn't really seem too much to matter about what I think personally. The refs called a foul that's just what it is,” Isaac Likekele said after the game. “We got to figure out how to not get it to that point. We shouldn't have to wait to put it in the ref's hands (on the) last possession of the game. So we got to figure out everything we can do better before that moment.”