Photo courtesy of Aaron Doster – USA Today Sports
Nothing screams March in college basketball like an overtime game being made out of what was, in every sense of the word, a blowout. Ohio State came with all cylinders firing in their matchup against the fourth-seeded Purdue Boilermakers, playing what was arguably their best half of the season. Behind a career day from Kyle Young, the 49 point first period had the Buckeyes in position for an easy coast into the semi-finals.
The team then did what this team always seems to do; they took their foot off the gas. For some reason, Chris Holtmann’s team has yet to be able to put together a complete 40 minutes of basketball, and this was yet another data point to support this trend. An 18-point lead was erased as the combination of an offensive drought and an inability to slow Purdue’s well-rounded attack put the Buckeyes to the ultimate test.
Ultimately, a clutch performance from the vets in overtime led to a 9-point win that was much closer than the stat-sheet would have you believe. So what’s next for this Ohio State team? I’ve been a believer from the very beginning that this team has all the potential in the world to win the National Championship, and I won’t be straying from that prediction.
With that being said, the team will have to come into their best stretch of basketball of the year if they want a chance to be the top dog. Fortunately, they’ll have to go toe-to-toe with 2 of the Top-5 teams in the country should they run the table in the Big Ten Tournament this weekend. The best conference schedule in basketball can certainly sharpen a team of Ohio State’s caliber, and to be the best you need to be able to beat the best. The Buckeyes have an opportunity to do just that Saturday morning against that team up north.
One of the major contributing factors to Friday’s collapse was the injury to Kyle Young. Young has been one of the most consistent players on both ends of the floor, and his 18 first half points matched his previous career high. With the concussion he suffered less than a month ago in the Buckeyes last matchup with the Wolverines, there’s concern that this most recent head injury could hamper Young for an extended period of time late into the season.
Without a true big-man in the rotation, there’s something to be said about the physicality that Young brings day in and day out. Losing him would make it incredibly tough for the team to defend against guys like Hunter Dickinson of Michigan and Kofi Cockburn of Illinois. As well as defending the bigs, the Buckeyes have to be able to score. Yes, they were able to put up 87 in this one, but just 23 of those came in the second half. I mentioned it before but this team has a real problem with playing a full game.
The shooters seemed to come alive when the overtime period rolled around but the second half was abysmal for the offense as a whole. Holtmann needs to draw up plays to get Justin Ahrens back into the swing of things from beyond the arc and Ahrens has to find his rhythm to get back into mid-season form. Duane Washington is among the best guards in the country when he’s on, and I see him being a key against bigger teams like the Wolverines. E.J. Liddell was on the All-Big Ten Team for a reason, and if he can keep himself out of foul trouble then his impact will be crucial down the stretch.
The point being in all of this; Ohio State can, and in my opinion, will make a deep run in March Madness if they’re able to put together a run of complete games. You’d be hard-pressed to find a deeper, more talented team when these Buckeyes are playing at the top of their game. Is there reason to worry? Of course. This is the same team that has blown double digit leads in back-to-back games, but talent is king and this team is more than talented enough to get the job done.