In possession of a double-figure lead in the second half, owning the ball and all the time on the clock to take the final shot or force overtime, Ohio State instead gave Florida a chance in regulation and the Gators didn’t waste it.
Resist that temptation in the case of Ohio State’s 71-68 loss to Florida on Wednesday night.
And, as an extra added bonus, OSU augmented all those failures with enough mental errors to fill a network news broadcast, including E.J. Liddell’s rushed, off-balance jumper with eight seconds left when holding for the final shot guaranteed no worse fate than overtime and a chance to win the game then.
Instead, Liddell’s shot clanged off the rim from the right side, bounced lazily and freely to the left side of the court, where teammate Jimmy Sotos hesitated and watched Florida retrieve it.
A pass down court to Appleby gave him just enough time to cut toward the middle and launch in front of a late-arriving Sotos.
The shot swished as the clock hit 0:00, mirroring how OSU won its Monday game against Seton Hall on Meechie Johnson’s long triple with 2.6 seconds left.
This time, the Buckeyes weren’t as fortunate, and didn’t deserve to be, not with 18 turnovers and several other train-wreck possessions where the shot clock forced a scrambled, no-chance attempt to avoid a 35-second violation.
Not with 13-of-20 free throw shooting, including 2-of-6 on three one-and-ones bunched into a single minute after OSU took, and failed to build much, onto a 56-51 margin.
And not with Florida, like Seton Hall on Monday, getting 16 offensive rebounds, which it converted into 16 second-chance points.
“Bottom line, we just weren’t poised enough with the ball,” OSU coach Chris Holtmann said. “It’s clearly an area we have to get better in. I thought our guys battled and played pretty resilient. We just couldn’t close it out.”
That surely wasn’t for lack of opportunity.
OSU led, 51-45, when Holtmann gained his second technical foul in two games, thus giving Florida four points instead of two off the whistle that earned Kyle Young his fifth personal at the midpoint of the second half.
That’s right, Young, a fifth-year player, fouled out with just under 10 minutes to play after playing one minute less than that all night.
“It really hurt not having Kyle for the bulk of the game,” Holtmann said. “With he and E.J. out there, he’s a significant pressure relief for us. It was a significant loss when he went out with his fifth foul.”
Sure, you can blame officials for that, but it’s also fair to ask what a player that consequential is doing on the floor with four personals at that juncture, as it’s fair to ask why an experienced player like Young would not adjust to the way officials are calling the action.
“I certainly wish I wouldn’t have gotten a technical,: Holtmann said. “I think we can take a lot from this game, and certainly a lot from this tournament.”
One thing OSU better assimilate quickly is how to handle opposing pressure.
Florida’s pressure out front made virtually every Ohio State possession an adventure, leading to long scoring droughts that factored prominently in the outcome.
That’s not a small issue to have with No. 5 Duke and its floor-slapping coverage invading Value City Arena for a 9:30 p.m. tipoff on Monday.
“When we’ve struggled at times, it’s with teams that have really crawled up into our guards.” Holtmann said. “We have to find a way to get better with that.”
No kidding, because if that remains an affliction, finishing above .500 in the Big Ten will be a tall order. It’s impossible to protect a lead when guards can’t play against pressure and teams cannot cash free throws with the clock winding down.
Against Seton Hall, OSU let a 12-point lead slip away in the final minutes and had to win on Johnson’s buzzer-beating prayer.
Against Florida, Ohio State held a 47-37 edge with 13 minutes left, then went scoreless for two minutes while committing three turnovers.
Florida offered an 8-0 burst during that drought, but Ohio State rebuilt its edge to 56-51. That’s when Sotos, Zed Key and Liddell went a combined 2-for-6 to botch building the margin further.
OSU still led, 63-56, with less than five minutes left, but gave up a triple, turned it over twice more and then had to battle possession for possession.
Liddell’s two free throws at 1:57 put Ohio State in front, 67-66, and Key had the chance to move the lead to three with a two-shot chance at 47.1.
He made only one, though, and Florida quickly tied it when Liddell lost Anthony Duruji via a back screen for an easy lob dunk.
With the ball and 36 seconds left, Ohio State seemed destined for no worse than overtime, because that’s how good, smart, sound, experienced teams play the final seconds in such a situation.
But OSU is currently only the latter, experienced, but not smart, and certainly not mentally tough.
That deficiency showed up in the loss at Xavier, almost led to a loss against Seton Hall and came back to bite the Buckeyes again against Florida.
Should the wishbone break in Holtmann’s favor on Thanksgiving, he’ll likely request some of the maturity his team is supposed to feature and that it manifest itself by Monday night.
Bruce Hooley is the Digital Marketing Manager for PressPros and the host of the Bruce Hooley Show on 98.9 FM The Answer. He also hosts the We Tackle Life podcast on iTunes and GooglePlay.