With just under 30 seconds to go, Ohio State sophomore forward Keita Bates-Diop hit a corner 3-pointer to cut 10th-ranked Virginia’s lead to just three points, 61-58.
But after not being able to steal the ensuing inbounds pass, the Buckeyes were forced to foul, sending the Cavaliers to the free-throw line. Virginia cashed in on a pair, eventually dodging the upset bid from OSU to win 64-58.
The loss drops OSU to 2-4 on the season, while also giving the Buckeyes just their fourth four-game losing streak since the turn of the century. Virginia moves to 6-1 after the victory.
OSU had three players in double-figures, highlighted by forward Marc Loving’s 19 points on an efficient 7-of-11 shooting, including netting three of his six 3-point tries. The junior forward also chipped in five rebounds.
Joining Loving in double figures was Bates-Diop, with 15 points, powered by him shooting 3-of-6 from deep, and sophomore forward Jae’Sean Tate with a dozen. Tate added eight rebounds, five of which came in the second half.
Although they might have picked up the loss, the Buckeyes churned in, arguably, their best performance of the season.
“I definitely think we’ve gotten better,” Tate said. “It just seems like all our games come down to the wire. We just have to figure out a way to bring it home. We’re so close.”
One of the main reasons why the Buckeyes could not bring it home was the performance of Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon. The redshirt senior guard led the way for his team, scoring 22 points on 7-of-16 shooting, including six 3-pointers.
It seemed that as soon as OSU would close the gap, Brogdon would be there to hit a big shot to swing momentum back toward the Cavaliers.
“That kid is one of the best players, honestly, I’ve seen,” OSU coach Thad Matta said. “He’s so patient, he’s so smooth, he’s so efficient when he plays … when he made his first couple shots, I was so like, ‘Oh boy, here we go.’”
As Matta mentioned, Brogdon got out to a hot start, scoring nine of Virginia’s first 13 points. But after being down 13-6, the Buckeyes climbed back into with an 8-2 run to make it a one-point game.
The Cavaliers seized momentum back from the Scarlet and Gray from there to go up 26-17 with 2:39 left in the first half. The nine-point advantage was the game’s largest by either team, but instead of rolling over, the Buckeyes fought back to behind a personal five-point run from redshirt sophomore center Trevor Thompson.
A key to the Buckeyes entering the locker room trailing by just two was their defense. OSU held Virginia to just 26 first-half points, a season-low, on 37 percent shooting.
Freshman center Daniel Giddens was instrumental in the strong defensive showing, as any time a Cavalier player got into the paint, he was there to alter their shot. In the first half alone, he had three blocks.
Because of his presence, Virginia often was passive, settling for jump shots. But for the Buckeyes, it turned out to be a double-edged sword, as the Cavaliers shot an efficient 4-of-9 from deep.
“We haven’t gone against a team that is able to block shots like that yet,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said, adding, “When we’d try to go to the lane, they’d just block it.”
In every one of OSU’s four losses, the game has been very close at halftime. In fact, it even led in two of the three prior to Tuesday’s matchup. However, the problem for the Buckeyes had been less-than-stellar second halves.
Against Virginia, the opposite happened. Bates-Diop and Loving hit early 3-pointers to grab OSU its first lead since five minutes into the game.
The cliché about basketball being a “game of runs” was definitely true in the second half, as the team’s traded runs for much of the final 20 minutes.
“I just think that we were hungry for a win — everybody, coaching staff, teammates,” Tate said about finally having a strong second half. “I feel like that was the key. Everybody was locked in.”
OSU’s final lead came with 13:20 left in the game, but it had multiple trips to the offensive end where it could’ve taken the lead or tied the contest.
Loving hit a 3-pointer from the right wing to cut Virginia’s lead to just one point with just over eight minutes left to play. The Buckeyes forced a missed shot by the Cavaliers on the ensuing possession, give them a chance to grab the lead.
Instead, freshman guard JaQuan Lyle kept up with what has been plaguing OSU all season long: turning the ball over after dribbling into traffic.
In those critical moments, the young Buckeyes just continued to come up short. As for why, Matta said he was clueless.
“I don’t know,” the coach said, chuckling. “That one I don’t know the answer to. You look at this team and just how few a plays away we are from turning the corner.”
And against the Cavaliers, it was certainly just a few plays here and there that, had they gone the other way, perhaps OSU would be celebrating its upset. Because of just how close it was, Loving said the loss leaves him with mixed emotions.
“It’s bittersweet,” he said. “It’s bitter because we lost but it feels good to know that we’re getting better each and every game to the point where we’re able to compete with top-10 teams.
“We’re just taking each day in practice to get better and prepare for our next opponent.”
That next opponent is a team from the same commonwealth as the Cavaliers, in the Virginia Military Institute. The Buckeyes and the Keydets are scheduled to be in action at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday inside the Schottenstein Center.