For the second straight game, Ohio State blew it in the second half.
Like in its 67-66 loss to Butler, the Buckeyes seemed to have everything going right for them early, and lost all momentum when it came down to the final stretch of the game.
Ohio State (5-3) led Clemson (6-1) for nearly 26:43, but a late slump by the Buckeyes pushed the Tigers to their 79-65 victory in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge Wednesday night at the Schottenstein Center.
The Tigers slowly crept back into the game after trailing by as much as 13 in the first half. Clemson began the second half on a 23-16 run and with 11:08 remaining took its first lead, 54-53, since the game’s opening minute. A 15-3 run pushed the Tigers well ahead 64-56 with just 7:36 left.
Head coach Chris Holtmann expressed frustration that his team squandered back-to-back games it should have won, citing a step back in mental toughness from earlier in the season when the Buckeyes fought through slumps and opposing runs.
“I didn’t think we handled adversity very well and weren’t as connected as we needed to be and let frustration get the best of us and so I think we definitely took a step backwards when it comes to that today,” Holtmann said. “We’re going to have to respond better to runs and I’m going to have to continue to coach that better.”
The Buckeyes began with plenty of life, especially from beyond the arc. The first shot made was a 3-pointer by redshirt junior forward Keita Bates-Diop. Shortly thereafter, Bates-Diop fired another 3 from the baseline to put the Buckeyes up 8-5. They shot a combined 53.3 percent from beyond the arc, making 8-of-15 shots.
Freshman forward Kyle Young entered the game with 14:24 left on the clock, and just 18 seconds slammed home a one-handed dunk to put the Buckeyes up 17-7. About two minutes later, he made the first 3-pointer of his collegiate career to bring the score to 22-11.
But when Clemson switched from man-to-man to zone defense, Ohio State could not find the basket. The Buckeyes went on a 3:41 scoring drought with less than 10 minutes left in the first half, and the Tigers and the Tigers responded with a 10-0 run to make it 24-21.
Ohio State has struggled consistently when opposing teams bring out zone defenses, and Holtmann said the Buckeyes will need to become a better passing team in order to better attack the zone.
“Good zone-offensive teams are really good passing teams,” Holtmann said. “And I think we are just going to have to simplify some stuff and be able to move the ball and pass it quicker and make quicker decisions. Maybe simplify some things on our end as well.”
The Buckeyes began the game passing without much of a problem, however. Of their 14 shots made in the first half, 12 came on assists. But Ohio State could not keep its passing up in the second half and added only three more assists to its total by the time the game ended.
“I can think of more than a couple times that the ball should have moved and it’s stuck in guys hands,” Holtmann said.
A lay-up by junior forward Jae’Sean Tate with 13:26 put Ohio State up 51-44, but a 3-pointer from Clemson guard Shelton Mitchell and a one-handed fast-break dunk by senior forward Donte Grantham after a turnover from freshman guard Musa Jallow shrunk the lead to 51-49.
That quickly became a theme of the game for Clemson, with the Tigers making the Buckeyes pay for every turnover or fast-break opportunity. Clemson scored 23 points off turnovers and 16 points off fast-break opportunities.
Bates-Diop said the issues they encountered late came back to that mental toughness Holtmann had cited, and said the Buckeyes just seemed to fall apart and not get itself back up.
“I mean that’s only mental toughness,” Bates-Diop said, referring to the second-half collapse. “That’s just knowing you can’t turn the ball over, try to find shooters on there as they start knocking down 3s 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.”
Ohio State plays Wisconsin on the road at 5 p.m. Saturday.