After collapsing in the final four minutes and blowing a 15-point lead against Butler on Sunday, Ohio State responded well in the first half against Clemson. It led 37-30 and had made 45.2 percent of its shots.
But the Buckeyes failed to keep the momentum going, and for the second straight game, a double-digit lead slipped away in their 79-65 loss to the Tigers on Wednesday night.
The tough loss to Butler happened because of an inability to score points down the stretch. Scoring was not the problem for the Buckeyes this night, but rather stopping their opponents on the other end of the court.
Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann credited Clemson’s ability to spread the Buckeyes out defensively and hit shots, but said the performance of his team deserved plenty of blame.
“I think more than anything I was not pleased with our overall defensive mindset approach from the tip,” Holtmann said. “And I think that’s something that we have to correct if we’re gonna grow.”
After falling in overtime following a Butler 10-0 run to end regulation in its previous game, the Buckeyes started red hot from 3-point range, making 8-of-15 attempts for a 53.3 percent clip.
However, Ohio State failed to stop Clemson’s efficient offensive attack. The Tigers shot 55.8 percent from the field and hit 10-of-19 3-pointers for an impressive 52.6 percent clip for the game. The Buckeyes, on the other hand, cooled off considerably, going just 1-for-6 beyond the arc in the second half.
The Buckeyes were effective defending the Tigers’ primary inside scoring threats, junior forward Elijah Thomas and senior forward Donte Grantham, holding them to zero and two points, respectively, in the first half.
Clemson had success from the perimeter in the first half, making 4-of-9 3-point attempts, but head coach Brad Brownell felt his team did not get his big men the ball enough, particularly Thomas.
Brownwell said his team has several talented guards who are prolific scorers, and that they took over the game in the second half.
A pair of those guards, Marcquise Reed and Shelton Mitchell, propelled the visiting team to victory. Reed scored 22 points and Mitchell added 19 points. Both players hit three 3-pointers.
Ohio State redshirt junior forward Keita Bates-Diop echoed his coach’s frustrations with the Buckeyes’ effort on the defensive end of the floor. He said during timeouts, the team discussed the importance of staying tough mentally.
“Making sure we were running our plays and getting in the right spots and making stuff tougher on them,” Bates-Diop said. “We really didn’t for the most part. They were getting relatively open 3s. They’re good shooters, they’re gonna knock noncontested shots down. Their big man gave them energy, gave them life.”
Although 3-pointers were the driving force in the Tigers’ victory, Thomas and Grantham found their rhythm in the second half, scoring 11 and nine points, respectively. Brownell said Thomas’ ability to make shots with the score close was imperative to his team’s success.
“And we don’t win the game unless we get those three or four baskets from [Thomas],” Brownell said. “Those are baskets you have to have in a game on the road to slow the other team down. You’re not going to keep making 3s and make all those shots.”
Brownell said his team cannot expect to continue making 3-pointers, but the Tigers were unwavered from distance, making 6-of-10 3-point attempts in the second half.
When asked if the Buckeyes’ struggles were due to lapses in mental or physical toughness, Bates-Diop answered candidly while expressing his frustrations.
“I mean that’s only mental toughness. That’s not physical at all,” Bates-Diop said. “That’s just knowing you can’t turn the ball over, try to find shooters on there as they start knocking down threes and led to them getting layups. Their big men started putting some work on us. Credit to them, they found all of our weak spots and capitalized on them.”