The No. 14 Buckeyes (5-1) dug themselves a 35-18 halftime against No. 6 Louisville (6-0) hole thanks to a disjointed offense weighed own further by horrendous 3-point shooting. They outscored the Cardinals 37-29, a second-half surge led by Marc Loving and D’Angelo Russell, but it was too little, too late as the Buckeyes fell 64-55 in their first road test of the year.
“We started fighting, we were playing on our heels, playing soft in the first half,” senior Sam Thompson said. “We just wanted to come out, punch back. We got punched in the mouth the whole first half, we just wanted to come out and punch back.”
Free throws from Russell cut what had been as large as a 19-point lead to a 56-53 Louisville advantage with just 1:12 left on the clock. But the Buckeyes couldn’t land a final punch.
After a Cardinal three, head coach Thad Matta elected not to call a timeout, allowing the Buckeyes to run their offense. A Jae’Sean Tate drive came up empty, but an Amir Williams follow-up dunk cut the lead back to four for Louisville. Ohio State wouldn’t score again with Louisville free throws bringing the game to its final margin.
While the Buckeyes second-half run fell short, it dwarfed their first-half effort. Ohio State struggled to get into their offense against the pressure defense of the Cardinals. Of their first three shots, two came from behind the arc and one was a long two, while none of the Buckeyes first three attempts came out of a designed offensive action.
In front of 22,784 at the KFC Yum! Center, the Buckeyes looked timid early.
“We tried to simulate their pressure in practice, which we didn’t do a very good job of,” associate head coach Dave Dickerson said. “I thought their pressure bothered us, especially the first two minutes where we couldn’t get in a rhythm. Their offensive rebounding was as good as we’ve seen. From their pressure we turned the ball over and the fact that we couldn’t get any defensive rebounds really took us out of some of the things that we do well, which is scoring in transition and having early offensive opportunities.”
Dickerson addressed the media while Matta consoled Anthony Lee who learned of the death of his grandmother following the game.
As the associate head coach said, the Buckeyes struggled on the boards before intermission as the Cardinals held a 28-18 advantage on the glass at intermission.
While the Buckeyes struggled to rebound the basketball, both teams struggled to score. The teams combined to shoot 30 percent in the first half. Though the Cardinals size advantage led to a 12-0 points in the paint advantage in the first half, the jump shots weren’t falling, keeping the Buckeyes in striking distance despite a dismal offensive performance.
“Everything came from us,” Russell said of the struggles. “It wasn’t no pressure, no speed of the game, none of that. It was all our mistakes. Everything that happened was from us. We should have came ready to play. We made a good fight, but we shouldn’t have been down 20 from the start. It was just all on us.”
Led by Russell and Loving, the Buckeyes began to chip away in the second half. An awkward leaner in the lane from Loving cut the lead to 11 with 8:22 to play and after a Louisville free throw, the sophomore nailed a three to cut the lead to nine with 8:20 remaining.
It was the first time the Buckeyes were within single digits since the 10:44 mark in the first half.
Just over a minute later, Loving fouled out. He had scored 11 of the Buckeyes 19 second-half points at that point and finished his night with 13 points and 6 rebounds.
From there it was Russell’s turn. With starting point guard Shannon Scott struggling to one of the worst nights in his career (3 points and 5 turnovers), Russell ran the point for the final 12 minutes of the game. The Louisville native helped claw the Buckeyes back.
Russell scored 10 of the Buckeyes final 14 points, but it just wasn’t enough. The freshman finished with a team-high 17.
Montrezl Harrell ensured the Buckeyes wouldn’t finish the comeback. After the Buckeyes cut it to single digits, the Cardinals’ power forward had three points and three key offensive rebounds, extending possessions and allowing Louisville to drain valuable time off the clock. Harrell finished 13 points and 10 rebounds while Wayne Blackshear finished with a game-high 22 points, 12 from behind the arc.
Ohio State was resilient in climbing back into a game that it was dominated in early, but that was little consolation to Thompson.
“Obviously it’s a positive when we fight back, but nobody in that locker room is happy right now,” he said after the loss. “Nobody in that locker room didn’t expect us to fight back, we just affirmed what we already knew, we were going to fight. We’ve got to get off to a better start, we can’t put ourselves in that hole.”