COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Disappointing. The end of the Ohio State men’s basketball season was exactly that after OSU inexplicably lost 75-72 to Oral Roberts in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
But the season as a whole was a combination of promising, uplifting, and ultimately heartbreaking.
The Buckeyes were just the 9th team in tournament history to lose to a 15 seed and first since 2016.
At several points in the 2020-21 season, the Buckeyes were considered legitimate national title contenders, especially during OSU’s seven-game win streak and after an impressive showing in the Big Ten Tournament where the Buckeyes fell just short in the title game to Illinois in overtime.
TOP TEN TEAM: Ohio State played in the most competitive conference in the country. A record-setting nine Big Ten schools made the NCAA Tournament and throughout the season Ohio State proved to be one best teams in the conference and the nation. The Buckeyes vaulted into the AP Top 10 midway through the season and remained there all the way through the end of the conference tournament earning the 6th overall ranking and a No. 2 seed for the NCAA Tournament.
EFFICIENT: The Buckeyes were consistently one of the most efficient offenses in the country throughout the season. At the end of the regular season, Ohio State ranked as the fourth-most efficient offense and boasted a team that could score 80 points on any given night. Ohio State’s combination of three-point shooting, interior play and court vision are evidence of head coach Chris Holtmann’s meticulous game preparation.
YOUNG: Not as in Kyle Young although he was a massive contributor once again this season until he was forced to miss a few of OSU’s games late in the season, including the stunning loss to Oral Roberts. Ohio State likely beats the Golden Eagles with the senior in the lineup. But the past is the past, and speaking of which most players from this season will be part of Ohio State’s future next year. The only player Ohio State won’t have back for certain is point guard C.J. Walker who will go pro. Kyle Young and EJ Liddell have yet to make a decision about their future. Everyone else who played significant minutes is set to return, which is great news for the Buckeyes who finished with 21 wins and 10 losses.
SELF DISCIPLINE: This Ohio State team should be commended for the fact that it never had to go on pause due to COVID-19 outbreak. Every player committed himself to not putting the team at risk and OSU wound up playing 31 games, tied for second most in the country. There is something to be said about that level of dedication during the pandemic to not having a normal college experience and still stay committed to safety and each other. Credit goes to Chris Holtmann as well.
EARLY EXIT: Losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament as No. 2 seed is inexcusable, especially with the way OSU lost. The Buckeyes were not outshot in a one off by the nation’s top three-point shooting team. In fact, Oral Roberts made 11 threes, which is exactly their average this season and shot a measly 35% from the field. The Golden Eagles did not overperform. The Buckeyes couldn’t contain the country’s leading scorer, Max Abmas, who poured in 29 points and also couldn’t stop Kevin Obanor who dropped 30 points.
DEFENSE: While the Buckeyes scored opposing defenses left and right, they gave up equally as much. Ohio State ranked 81st in the country in defensive efficiency and 197th in the country in scoring defense allowing 71 points a game. A lack of defense was noticeable throughout the season, which was understandable at times given how talented the Big Ten was this season. But constantly falling short on one end of the court cost Ohio State in the first half against Oral Roberts.
Meechie Johnson and Seth Towns will be the returning players who see the biggest increase in minutes. The 19-year-old Johnson was able to bypass a senior year of high school to play for OSU this season and he will be tasked with filling Walker’s shoes. Columbus native Seth Towns dealt with injuries throughout the season and couldn’t contribute as much as he would have liked. But he should be 100% by next season and compete with Justin Ahrens and Musa Jallow for a starting spot.
One last player to keep an eye on is incoming true freshman Malaki Branham. The St. Vincent-St. Mary product dropped 37 points in the team’s Division II State Championship win over DeSales. Branham has the ability to play major minutes as a freshman and fill the role of point guard or shooting guard should the need come up.