Felix Okpara stepped to the free-throw line with a chance to put Ohio State ahead at Assembly Hall.
Only 3:56 remained – in the first half. Even in a tight game in which the Bloomington crowd hung on every possession, it hardly felt like a potential inflection point. But in retrospect, that’s exactly what it was. Not so much Okpara’s two missed free throws specifically, but everything that followed.
The Buckeyes missed an opportunity to take a lead late in the first half, and in one of the nation’s most hostile environments, the Hoosiers made them pay. Over and over again. Indiana scored 15 unanswered points in the final 3:31 of the first half, and its one-point lead ballooned to 16 by halftime.
Rewind a couple more minutes and the Hoosiers actually outscored Ohio State 17-1 in the final 5:25. The Buckeyes misfired on seven straight shot attempts during that stretch, which felt nothing short of game-changing in the moment.
In the end, it was the game-winning run for Indiana.
“We got to look at those five minutes and figure out what we need to do better,” Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said after the 86-70 loss. “I thought our shot selection wasn’t great, it fed some of their transition, and I did not think we had good execution on either end in the last five minutes. Certainly tried to stem the tide there with the timeout, maybe could’ve even doubled up in the last minute there.”
Ohio State stepped up on both sides of the floor in the second half. After scoring 30 points in the first 20 minutes, it put up 40 in the final frame. Ohio State held Indiana to six fewer points in the second half and also shot nearly 2% better from the field. The Buckeyes even won the rebounding battle in the second period, turned the ball over less and outscored the Hoosiers by eight in the paint.
Perhaps any of that would have mattered had Ohio State closed the first half with a better effort than it did. Even with all those stats taken into consideration, the Buckeyes couldn’t beat Indiana in the second half, either. Despite an improved half of play, Ohio State was dead even with the Hoosiers, 40-40, in the final 20 minutes alone.
“It was tough. I mean, when you give up a run like that on the road,” Sean McNeil said after the game. “We played them pretty even in the second half, but giving up that substantial amount of points in that short amount of time, (it’s hard to come back).”
Three weeks ago, a similar stretch doomed Ohio State on the road. Against Maryland in College Park, the Buckeyes gave up a 14-0 run to start the second half in a game that they were winning at halftime. But the Buckeyes might have shown more resilience in that contest than they did on Saturday.
After going down 14 to the Terrapins in the second half, the Buckeyes battled back to cut the lead to three points before the end of the game. The end result was a seven-point loss, but one extra possession could’ve allowed Ohio State to swing things.
Against Indiana, Ohio State never put together such a run. The closest it came was a 7-0 stretch from 19:27 to 18:07 in the second half in which the Buckeyes made it an 11-point game. Indiana never led by more than 19, but it also never let Ohio State cut the deficit to 10 points or lower. For most of the second half, it was closer to a 20-point ballgame than a single-digit affair.
Before Saturday, Ohio State had lost only one game by double digits all season. And that was only an 11-point loss to a ranked San Diego State team early in the year. Even against Illinois on Tuesday, Ohio State turned a 17-point deficit into a nine-point loss to save face late in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score suggested.
But Indiana managed to put a proper blowout on the Buckeyes, and one that reflects its past month of play. Ohio State has now lost seven of its last eight games and finishes the first month of the new year with a 2-7 January record.
The problems aren’t singular, either. At first, Ohio State’s offense could hang with anybody, but the defense wasn’t quite there yet. Then the Buckeyes shot under 40% as a team in four of its last five games entering the weekend. Saturday’s 44.1% shooting performance was actually a bit of an improvement, statistically, but Ohio State’s defense didn’t follow suit.
After giving up its third-highest scoring total of the season on a 50% shooting night for the Hoosiers, Holtmann called it “our poorest defensive output on the year.”
“We’ve gotta be better,” Holtmann said. “They’re a good offensive team and they’re playing in a good rhythm right now, but the end of the first half was really just too much. … We’ll go back and look at it. There were just too many errors and we didn’t rebound the ball at the level we needed to.”
And it wasn’t just one player causing damage for the Hoosiers. Trayce Jackson-Davis was limited to eight points on 4-for-10 shooting in the first half, but freshman guard Jalen Hood-Schifino knocked down six 3-pointers to score 20 points before halftime. When Hood-Schifino slowed down in the second half, Jackson-Davis poured in 10 points in the first 15 minutes of the second half.
There’s no doubt that the end of the first half spelled Ohio State’s demise on Saturday. But the Buckeyes’ problems have varied from game to game, which isn’t a great sign for a team that needs an immediate turnaround to remain in NCAA Tournament talks in the weeks to come.