Half an hour after Penn State stunned No. 13 Ohio State on a last-minute 3-pointer, Buckeye head coach Chris Holtmann was answering questions from the media when someone’s phone went off.
It was the video replay of sophomore guard Tony Carr’s shot that handed the Buckeyes a crushing defeat at home for their first Big Ten loss of the season. And it was playing loud.
“Tony Carr, at the horn, got it! Penn State, at the buzzer,” Big Ten Network’s Jeff Levering could be heard shouting.
Holtmann had watched that shot fall earlier and was stunned. This time, hearing it play during the interview, he was unfazed.
“Repeat that [question] again, I’m sorry,” Holtmann said.
The question was about how made shots own the stretch by redshirt junior forward Keita Bates-Diop and senior forward Jae’Sean Tate might help develop confidence.
“Yeah hopefully it gives them a great amount of confidence in what we’re doing,” Holtmann said. “Players win games and those plays that are group made, but Keita finished, put us a great position to advance this thing to overtime.”
But at the end of the night, those players were hunched over, hands on knees in defeat with disbelief as the confidence in the shot made by Bates-Diop to tie the game seconds earlier was washed away by Carr’s buzzer-beating, long-range shot.
Ohio State now has four days to put that loss in the rearview mirror. That means it has four days of that buzzer echoing throughout the Schottenstein Center until the next one goes off Tuesday to signal the start of the game against Indiana.
Those four days could decide the rest of Ohio State’s season. If the Buckeyes remain hunched over, still visualizing the dogpile of Nittany Lions on their home court, then a season that started with so much promise could begin to unravel.
It will not be easy for them to get over the loss. Ohio State lost, but for more reasons than just the one shot.
It gave up its third-highest point total to a team this season, and highest in Big Ten play. It came out of the gate slow, allowing the Nittany Lions to knock down 3s seemingly at will, uncontested. It trailed for more than 37 minutes.
“We’ve gotten away with coming out a little sluggish and tonight we finally couldn’t get back into it,” Tate said. “We didn’t lose on that last shot. I mean Penn State, they played a great game, but we’ve just got to work on coming out with the same edge that we play with late in the second half.”
Still, the Buckeyes persisted. They fought back despite trailing by nine with three minutes left. They made each of their last four shots.
The ironic part about the shot that proved to be the dagger in the loss was that the 3 was the most well-defended made shot the Buckeyes allowed the entire night.
“I think two of our guys contested the shot and he ended up double-pumping and throwing it up,” Tate said. “It was a crazy shot.”
Now looking ahead to the four-day break, the Buckeyes will have a chance to work on the flaws that contributed to the loss to Penn State. That break will also just give them some time for rest. Holtmann said the team is mandated to have two days off without practice, and then it can have two more days of practice.
The rest will be important. Holtmann said the break will be just as important from a physical standpoint — Ohio State has played five games in less than two weeks — but should also give the Buckeyes a mental breather.
“We have to give them a couple of days off. Again, this is not unlike what we thought could happen at some point. We’ll see how we respond,” Holtmann said. “We need to be better. Hopefully we will. Hopefully the rest will help.”
The rest would certainly seem to help from a physical standpoint. Bates-Diop could use the time to get over his illness and players who have consistently registered 30-plus minutes per game will get a chance for the first time in a while to catch a breath.
The mental standpoint is still very much in the air. Last season, Ohio State rattled off a pair of impressive wins against Michigan State and Nebraska before losing by two at home to Northwestern on Jan. 22, 2017. It lost seven of its final 12 games after that game and could never get back on track.
This season has started off better than last season, however. This is just Ohio State’s first loss in 10 Big Ten games, and it already has more wins than last year’s team had the entire season. The leaders on Ohio State’s team, Tate and Bates-Diop, said they need to send a message to the younger players to make sure the players know the loss is not the end of the world.
“Just make sure everybody this is just one game so it doesn’t define us the rest of the season,” Bates-Diop said. “We’ve got eight more Big Ten games left, so we’re going to learn from this one and hope it doesn’t happen again. Just do what we can to make sure we don’t lose anymore.”
With eight more games left, Ohio State still has a chance to finish the season with a 17-1 record in the Big Ten. At the beginning of the season, that possibly seemed laughable. Ohio State will face a pair of struggling conference opponents in Indiana and Illinois coming up before heading on the road on Feb. 6 to face No. 3 Purdue.
The Buckeyes can’t afford to look too far down the road. Part of the reason Ohio State has an 18-5 record overall has been its ability to handle weaker opponents. Last season, it was never clear if the Buckeyes would beat those teams. But this season, Ohio State has handled every team it held a significant talent advantage over while hanging in with the tougher teams it faces.
It will be expected to handle Indiana and Illinois at home. The Buckeyes cannot afford to start losing to the teams they are projected to beat. To do that, Ohio State will need to be able to put this loss out of its mind and avoid allowing it to negatively affect Tuesday’s game against the Hoosiers.
“We’ll see. We’ll see what our response is next week,” Holtmann said. “I think we’ve got an Indiana team that’s talented and playing really well, so I am anxious to see that. And I think time will tell.”
Holtmann thanked everyone after that answer and walked out.
Hearing that shot during the post-game press conference did not faze him. It only slowed him down in answering the question. The Buckeyes have four days off before their next game, and they will likely hear that call over and over again until they get a chance to officially put that ending behind them.
Only time will tell if they will be unfazed like their coach, or if this marks the beginning of the end to a surprising run to start the season.