Ohio State Rebounding Deficits Becoming More Frequent Through Rough January Stretch

By Griffin Strom on January 26, 2023 at 11:35 am
Ohio State basketball
Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State was only outrebounded in three of its first 13 games of the season. It lost all three.

Now on the heels of six losses in the past seven contests, it comes as little surprise that the Buckeyes have been on the short end of the rebounding battle in a number of recent games – most recently on Tuesday. Ohio State’s opponents have finished with more rebounds in four of those seven games, and the Buckeyes dropped each and every one.

The deficits have gotten wider, too.

Before Ohio State’s Jan. 5 matchup with Purdue, the Buckeyes hadn’t been outrebounded by more than six boards in any game. That was the Buckeyes’ overtime loss to North Carolina in New York City on Dec. 17. Against San Diego State and Duke, the only other two teams Ohio State had lost to at that point, the Buckeyes finished with just three fewer rebounds.

Even at full strength, Ohio State would have been hard-pressed to outrebound the Boilermakers. After all, they possess 7-foot-4 center Zach Edey, who leads the Big Ten in rebounds by three per game. The challenge only became increasingly difficult when starting center Zed Key left the contest with a shoulder injury just four minutes in.

OSU Rebounding Deficits This Season
Date Opponent Opp REB OSU REB Result
Nov. 21 SDSU 37 34 88-77, L
Nov. 30 Duke 34 31 81-72, L
Dec. 17 UNC 48 42 89-84, L
Jan. 5 Purdue 37 27 71-69, L
Jan. 8 Maryland 40 26 80-73, L
Jan. 18 Nebraska 39 38 63-60, L
Jan. 24 Illinois 44 30 69-60, L

By game’s end, Purdue finished with 37 boards to Ohio State’s 27. At the time, It was the largest disparity the Buckeyes had suffered in that department. Ohio State still nearly overcame it. The Buckeyes held a one-point lead in the final 30 seconds, and it wasn’t a lack of rebounding that led to the game-winning shot for Purdue.

But the issue proved even more consequential in the following game. With Key ruled out against Maryland, freshman Felix Okpara made his first career start at center. But he got into foul trouble early, which left Ohio State outmanned down low for much of the game.

As a result, Maryland outrebounded Ohio State 40-26, outscored the Buckeyes 34-22 in the paint and got to the free-throw line 33 times in the 80-73 win. Key’s absence was glaring, and Chris Holtmann spoke to that fact in the days after the loss.

“It was the lack of physicality in the paint that he provides, certainly the offensive and defensive rebounding that I think we missed with him,” Holtmann said.

Even with Key back in the mix against Nebraska last week, though, the Buckeyes still suffered a disadvantage on the glass. It wasn’t a wide one, with the Huskers pulling down just one more rebound than Ohio State, but it helped lead to the Buckeyes’ fifth consecutive loss nonetheless. 

The Buckeyes had a much improved offensive performance against Iowa over the weekend, and its seven-rebound edge on the boards only buoyed their 93-point output. At the end of the game, though, Key suffered a knee injury that kept his status unclear for the immediate future.

Key was healthy enough to start against Illinois on Tuesday, but that didn’t help Ohio State much on the glass. Key pulled down just three rebounds in 23 minutes and the Buckeyes’ rebounding deficit was never more pronounced.

Despite the 69-60 final score, Illinois held a 17-point with three-and-a-half minutes to go and never trailed in the second half. The Illini’s advantage on the glass played a major role in their ability to keep Ohio State from mounting any real comeback effort in the latter stages of the contest.

Ohio State only trailed Illinois by two rebounds at halftime, 18-16. In the second half alone, though, the Buckeyes got outrebounded 26-14. Eleven of those were offensive rebounds, which allowed Illinois to finish with nine more shot attempts than the Buckeyes in the final 20 minutes.

Key was full go in the pregame shootaround for Ohio State, but given that Holtmann wasn’t sure about his health status just one day prior, it’s possible he wasn’t 100% on Tuesday. Not to mention, Key’s still wearing a shoulder brace after returning from the injury he reaggravated against Purdue.

As for Okpara, the Buckeyes’ backup center finished with just one rebound in 13 minutes of action against the Illini. That means Ohio State’s two centers combined for all of four boards in a road game against a Big Ten opponent that starts three players standing 6-foot-9 or above.

After the game, Okpara was seen leaving the arena in a walking boot, which suggests Key isn’t the only Buckeye center dealing with injury issues in late January.

Ohio State’s recent rebounding performances are especially concerning given the next opponent up on the Buckeyes’ schedule. The scarlet and gray head back on the road to take on Indiana at Assembly Hall on Saturday, and the Hoosiers possess the third-best rebounding margin in the conference.

Indiana’s given up the second-fewest combined opponent rebounds in the conference through its first 19 games, and star forward Trayce Jackson-Davis is the Big Ten’s third-leading individual rebounder (10.1 per game). 

If recent trends continue, Ohio State will likely lose its seventh game in an eight-game stretch if it can’t win the battle on the boards. And with both centers banged up ahead of a matchup with one of the best rebounding teams in the conference, it will be an uphill battle for the Buckeyes to do so.

View 21 Comments