Two top-25 opponents in three nights proved a little too much for a young Ohio State team to handle.
Two nights after knocking off No. 24 Syracuse in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-off, the Buckeyes were unable to do the same to Texas A&M, falling 70-47 in the championship game of the tournament.
OSU (3-1) was done in by an ice-cold night shooting the ball, particularly in the second half. Trailing by six points at halftime, the Buckeyes connected on just one of their first 19 second-half shots. The drought was broken by a jumper by senior guard Jamar Butler at the 8:33 mark of the half.
Only a game-closing 9-0 run by OSU’s reserves enabled the Buckeyes to avoid the biggest loss under head coach Thad Matta during his tenure at the school. That dubious record remains with last season’s national runners-up squad, which lost 86-60 to the Florida Gators on Dec. 23, 2006.
“They pretty much beat us in every phase of the game,” OSU associate head coach John Groce told the Ohio State Men’s Basketball Radio Network. “We have to go back to the drawing board. They did a great job of attacking us.”
As a team, the Buckeyes were just 14 of 55 (25.5 percent) from the field. Texas A&M, on the other hand, was 29 for 55 (52.7 percent) from the floor and outrebounded OSU 47-32.
In short, it was a game where it seemed nothing could go OSU’s way.
Butler led the way with 17 points for the Buckeyes, but just two of them came in the second half. Trailing 31-25 at the half, Texas A&M outscored OSU 39-13 until the Buckeyes’ late run. That run was punctuated by mini runs of 12-0 and 10-0 by the Aggies. With 3:39 to play, their lead was a game-high 31 points with 3:39 remaining.
One game after pouring in 24 points against Syracuse, freshman center Kosta Koufos was hampered early by foul trouble. With the Buckeyes holding a 17-15 lead in the first half, the freshman picked up his second foul and headed to the bench at the 7:28 mark of the half.
From there, the Aggies (6-0) closed the first half on a 16-8 run capped by a three-pointer with three seconds left that made it 31-25 Texas A&M.
“I have a lot of confidence in our players,” Groce said. “A lot of them are obviously youthful. A lot of those shots around the basket, you’d hope we’d make some of those. You’ve got to put the ball in the basket and we weren’t able to do that.”
OSU trailed early but went on a 10-3 run punctuated by a trey by Butler that was launched from behind the NBA three-point line, making the score 14-13. Following a Texas A&M score one possession later, Butler again launched a deep three-pointer from behind the NBA line to make it a 20-17 OSU lead.
Of OSU’s 25 first-half points, Butler had 15 of them. As a team, the Buckeyes shot just 31 percent in the first half compared to 50 percent for the Aggies.
Texas A&M opened up a 12-point lead less than three minutes into the second half by embarking on a 10-1 run that was bookended by treys, forcing Matta to call a timeout. In all, the Buckeyes missed their first six shots of the second half.
Koufos finished with 10 points on 4-for-16 shooting and grabbed five rebounds, while senior forward Othello Hunter added seven points
The Buckeyes will not have long to lick their wounds. OSU returns to the court Sunday to face Virginia Military Institute at historic St. John Arena.
“We responded from the adversity we dealt with after the Findlay loss,” Groce said, alluding to the Buckeyes’ preseason loss to the Division II foe. “This case, we play in basically 48 hours.”