Brice Sensabaugh set a program freshman record with 10 straight games as the team’s leading scorer entering Tuesday. He added another game to that tally against Illinois.
But make no mistake, it was no banner night for the four-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week. Following his career-high 27 points in Saturday’s five-game-skid-snapping win over Iowa, Sensabaugh scored his fewest points in nearly seven weeks.
Sensabaugh finished with 14 for the game, hitting just five of his 13 shot attempts and misfiring on both of his 3-pointers and three of his seven free throws. Sensabaugh scored his final three points in the last 2:13 of action, at which point Illinois had already built up an insurmountable lead. Those late efforts helped Ohio State cut the deficit to single digits by the final buzzer, but the contest was far more lopsided than the end result suggests.
However, the 69-60 defeat is less of an indictment on Sensabaugh than it is on his supporting cast, particularly as it pertains to offensive production.
In the 10 games leading into Tuesday, Sensabaugh averaged 20.6 points per game on 52.3% shooting. Six of those contests were 20-point performances from the freshman. Ohio State’s latest loss lends credence to the idea that the Buckeyes have become too reliant on Herculean feats from the first-year star.
On a relatively quiet night from Sensabaugh, the Buckeyes didn’t have enough firepower to pick him up. Considering they lost five of their last six games even with Sensabaugh firing on all cylinders, that almost goes without saying.
Isaac Likekele played the unlikely Robin to Sensabaugh’s Batman in Saturday’s win over Iowa. With Justice Sueing benched for the first time all season, the Oklahoma State transfer picked up the slack to score 18 points – twice as many as his previous season-high.
That hardly seemed sustainable for the typically low-scoring guard, and Tuesday’s performance only proved that point. Likekele kept his foot on the gas in the first half against Illinois, only it didn’t result in production. Likekele hit just one of his seven shot attempts to score two points, and he finished with five on the night after shooting the ball just once in the final 20 minutes.
In 26 minutes of action, Likekele finished with the worst plus/minus on the team, at -16. He also missed three of his four free throws.
Zed Key turned in an underwhelming effort as well. That might have been expected, given the knee injury that left his status in question coming into game day, but the Buckeyes’ starting center was healthy enough to start and log 23 minutes against Illinois.
He might have played even more had he not fouled out with 5:05 to play. Before then, Key scored eight points – four fewer than his season average – on 2-of-8 shooting. On a night that saw Ohio State get dominated on the glass (44-30), its starting center pulled down just three rebounds.
That statistic had just as much to do with Ohio State’s loss as its impotent offense. But that’s a different story.
Sueing, whose recent slump saw him pulled from the starting lineup for the second straight game, actually had a decent night. The sixth-year forward scored 13 points on 5-for-11 shooting, and for the first time since Dec. 22, he didn’t turn the ball over. But like Sensabaugh, three of Sueing’s points came in the waning seconds in Champaign, at which point any scoring was rendered irrelevant.
Starting guards Bruce Thornton and Sean McNeil each came up shy of their season scoring averages, and beyond Sueing, the Buckeye bench mustered just five points.
It’s not as though Ohio State is offensively challenged, at least not when it’s at its best. The Buckeyes already have five times as many 90-point performances this season than they had in 2021-22, with the latest taking place just three days ago against a rock-solid Big Ten opponent.
But in their past seven games, of which they’ve dropped six, the Buckeyes have scored 69 or fewer points on five occasions. Ohio State's 60 points on Tuesday tied last week's Nebraska loss for the program's fewest of the season.
Before Jan. 12, Ohio State hadn’t shot below 40% from the floor for a game all season. Since then, Ohio State’s hit less than 38% of its field goals in four out of five games. On Tuesday, Ohio State’s 36.7% clip marked its third-worst of the year.
Sensabaugh’s success this season started as a bonus for the Buckeyes. It was hardly an expectation, given his status as the third-highest-ranked recruit in Ohio State’s own freshman class. Recently, though, stellar performances from the first-year forward have become requisite for a Buckeye win.
And Ohio State hasn’t done much winning as of late, even when Sensabaugh does show out.