Head coach Thad Matta said before his team’s trip to Connecticut that he hoped he wouldn’t see a deer in the headlights look from his young squad. In the first half he did.
The Buckeyes (4-5) hung with the Huskies (6-3) early before the home team closed the half on a 21-6 run that gave UConn a dominating 45-24 lead at the break. Despite an early second-half run from the Buckeyes, the Huskies remained in control on their way to a 75-55 win Saturday afternoon.
Ohio State never led, but was in a back-and-forth contest early. The Buckeyes were down just 20-16 when point guard A.J. Harris made a three to break a 2:25 field goal drought at the 10:50 mark of the first half, the first of a few long stretches of inept offense from the Buckeyes.
The Buckeyes would hit just three more field goals for the rest of the half – a jumper from Kam Williams and layups from Jae’Sean Tate and Keita Bates-Diop – as Matta’s bunch suffered a field goal drought of 5:49 that saw the Huskies lead go from 24-18 to 38-20.
Ohio State struggled with transition defense, something Matta harped on leading up to the contest, as the Huskeis got whatever they wanted over the first half. UConn hit 63.3 percent of its shots in the first half, including five threes, and held a 24-10 advantage in the paint over the first twenty minutes.
Things were better for the Buckeyes in the second half, though they opened on a 2:42 scoring drought before Tate got the team going in the second twenty minutes with a long jumper, a shot that Ohio State consistently settled for throughout the afternoon.
That was a start of an 11-0 run that allowed Ohio State to cut the Huskies’ advantage to 12 at 47-35 with 13:24 remaining. That spurt featured five points from Tate and two each from Bates-Diop, Marc Loving and Daniel Giddens, who played for the first time since a Dec. 1 as the center missed two games due to illness and a strained hamstring.
Unfortunately for Ohio State, 12 points was as close as it would get. As the Buckeyes were cutting into the UConn lead, the Huskies began the half connecting on just 1 of their first 10 shots. Daniel Hamilton snapped them out of that with a jumper with 12:09 remaining before a transition dunk from Rodney Purvis brought the crowd to its feet. Purvis followed with a jumper as the shot clock expired to push the Huskies advantage back to 16.
Omar Calhoun hit a three on the team’s next possession and Jalen Adams connected on a three-point play to make it five consecutive made shots by UConn, making it 59-37 with 7:21 remaining.
That capped a 12-2 run from the Huskies as the Buckeyes went on a scoring drought of 3:41 that featured five missed shots and a turnover.
Loving snapped the drought with free throws before Giddens got a transition layup for the Buckeyes first field goal in 4:08. That cut the deficit to 18 with 6:42 remaining, but Ohio State would get no closer as the Huskies streak of consecutive makes reached 12.
Though the Buckeyes played better in the second half – they outscored UConn 31-30 in the final 20 minutes – it was not nearly enough to overcome the sluggish first half.
Ohio State finished 20 of 56 from the field (35.7 percent) and had just 11 assists as a team. That was in stark contrast to the Huskies who assisted on 17 of their 32 made field goals and shot 60.4 percent.
Tate and Loving were the only Buckeyes in double figures, scoring 15 and 14, respectively. Calhoun led five Huskies in double figures with 14.