Chris Holtmann Says Ohio State Fell Short in Perimeter Defense, Defensive Rebounding and Offensive Aggression in 18-Point Penn State Comeback

By Andy Anders on December 11, 2023 at 10:10 am
Chris Holtmann vs. Penn State
Matthew O'Haren – USA TODAY Sports

While the minds of some Ohio State fans might be clamoring back to the Buckeyes losing 14 of 15 games in January and February last year or past struggles in those months for OSU men's basketball, it’s still early.

Yes, a blown 18-point second-half lead to a conference opponent on a five-game losing streak, even on the road, is bad. But the Buckeyes aren’t hitting the panic button in December with an 8-2 record.

“They really made a lot of shots, eight threes in the second half,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said after the 83-80 loss to Penn State. “We just didn’t defend well enough. Give them credit. Thought our guys did some really good things, we had a good look (from 3) at the end there (to take the lead). We’ll learn from this and move forward.”

Holtmann and company will work to tune up several things that cost Ohio State against the Nittany Lions – defensive rebounding, perimeter defense and offensive mentality, namely – but his demeanor remains calm with a lot of season still to play after an uncharacteristically hot shooting night from Penn State.

“I think their defense speeds you up. I think it was a great environment,” Holtmann said. “I give their defense a lot of credit for that. But again, they made shots. Those guys made shots. I think, certainly, the thing that we could control is defending the line better, but the glass and I think our aggressiveness against the zone, I think that’s where we’ve got to get a lot better.”

Entering Saturday, Penn State had made just 29.7% of its attempts from 3-point range, good for 300th in college basketball. After guard Ace Baldwin Jr. missed the Nittany Lions’ first outside shot of the second half, making them 2-for-10 on the game at that point, the team made six of its next seven from distance as part of an 8-for-15 (53.3%) effort in the second half.

During Penn State's 25-9 extended run that cut Ohio State's lead from 55-37 to 64-62, it got two threes from D'Marco Dunn, two from Zach Hicks and another from Leo O'Boyle. O’Boyle then tied the game 74-74 with 1:09 to play on another triple.

“The thing that we could control is defending the line better, but the glass and I think our aggressiveness against the zone, I think that’s where we’ve got to get a lot better.”– Chris Holtmann on where Ohio State fell short in the second half

Baldwin capped the barrage by giving the Nittany Lions a lead they would not relinquish with a three with 32 seconds remaining that made it 79-76.

O’Boyle went 4-of-5 from outside after shooting just 21.1% through Penn State’s first nine games. Hicks finished 2-of-4 despite entering at 31%.

“They had some guys make shots that really hadn’t up until this point that are capable shooters,” Holtmann said. “We knew they were capable shooters. We knew (O’Boyle) was a better shooter than what he had performed up until this point, give him credit (for) making four out of five. I think it just gave their group some momentum.”

Holtmann said that, even as the lead dwindled, he thought the Buckeyes handled things well in huddles during timeouts, keeping their composure facing adversity on the road.

“They were in a great spot (mentally),” Holtmann said. “We knew we were going to be playing a really desperate Penn State team. They played really well last time out (against Maryland), so we have great respect for them. I don’t think that we anticipated it was going to be anything other than a really tough game.”

Ohio State had a chance to retake the lead down 80-78 with 22 seconds left. Off a missed free throw, the Buckeyes ran an action that left forward Jamison Battle open for a left-corner 3, but the shot didn’t fall. With seven seconds remaining, Penn State center Qudus Wahab put things out of reach at 82-78 on a pair of free throws.

Holtmann commended the play of Penn State’s backcourt in the comeback. Guard Kanye Clary scored a game-high 19 points while Baldwin followed with nine points – including the eventual game-winning 3-pointer – and five assists.

“They put more skill and shooting on the floor in the second half, I think that spread us out a little bit,” Holtmann said. “Those guys are good players. Their players are really, really good players. Their backcourt is as dynamic as any backcourt we’ve played, we’ve played some really good ones, (Texas) A&M – they are really a dynamic backcourt. So give those guys credit. They’re hard to play in space.”

The biggest flaw Holtmann saw in his team’s second-half performance was in its hustle and defensive rebounding.

After enjoying a 26-12 shellacking of the Nittany Lions on the glass in the first half, the Buckeyes were outrebounded 19-17 in the second. Penn State scored 14 of its 16 second-chance points in the final 20 minutes.

“I think the glass and the effort plays are probably where we just weren’t good enough – I’d have to go back and look at the tape,” Holtmann said. “And I don’t think we were nearly aggressive enough against the zone.”

Ohio State has all week to work on correcting those mistakes before returning to action in the CBS Sports Classic against UCLA on Saturday. That game will tip off at State Farm Arena in Atlanta at 3 p.m. on CBS.

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