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No. 2 Ohio State Wilts Under West Virginia Pressure

Buckeyes waste second-half lead in loss to Huggins, Mountaineers

Momma said there'd be days like this.

Or, weekends, in the case of Ohio State this weekend.

About 16 hours after second-ranked OSU dropped a 29-23 heart-breaker to Clemson in a Fiesta Bowl College Football Playoff semifinal, the No. 2-ranked Buckeyes basketball team wasted a seven-point second-half lead in a 67-59 loss to West Virginia at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.

Unlike the football defeat, which ended Ohio State's season agonizingly short of the national championship game, the second loss for Chris Holtmann's team this season could steel them for a title run in March and April.

So, like a swig of grandma's cod liver oil, or a shot of apple cider vinegar, it might not taste good to the Buckeyes now, but it will be good for them as a what-not-to-do example for upcoming road games in Big Ten and neutral site affairs in the NCAA Tournament.

Teams don't win in those difficult situations:

  • committing 22 turnovers,
  • shooting 31% from the field,
  • settling for three-point attempts because of the difficulty getting shots against cumbersome coverage,,
  • missing critical free throws down the stretch, or
  • having its most-experienced players make hurried mistakes under duress.

Ohio State did all of that and thus fell to 11-2 entering a Friday home game against Wisconsin.

With the home of the Cleveland Cavaliers rocking from an infusion of WVU fans who made the three-hour drive from Morgantown, OSU's young roster wilted under the duress of the Mountaineers' relentless pressure and physical defense.

That's what Bob Huggins' teams do -- they turn a game opponents prefer be displays of quickness and artistry into tests of will and survival.

If Huggs and his players walk into a black-tie affair, you can bet it won't be long before the food is flying and tables are overturned.

That's the beauty of Huggins' system, which once took down an unbeaten Kentucky team with John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, and Sunday inflicted a hard lesson on Holtmann's young Buckeyes.

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"It's unique, playing a team that tries to be this disruptive," Holtmann said. "It's really unique. We tried obviously to do some things to prepare our guys for their length and size and physicality. They throw a lot of bodies at you and they really don't care if they foul.

"That's always been Bob's philosophy. They're going to play 10 or 11 guys and if they foul, they foul. Hopefully, we'll play other teams in the league that play like this -- Illinois for one -- and we have to figure out how to improve from it."

OSU had five turnovers in the first five minutes, settled to build a six-point halftime lead it maintained for the most part, but came progressively undone in  the second half.

Five straight throwaways in succession, and four turnovers in five possessions another time, gave West Virginia's halting offense too many chances to stay close and eventually capitalize.

Sound familiar, Fiesta Bowl-watchers?

OSU didn't make a field goal between Kaleb Wessons' dunk at 17:01 and D.J. Carton's 3-pointer at 11:50.

Of course, it's hard to make a shot if you don't get one up.

The Buckeyes turned it over five straight times in that stretch.

After Carton's triple, OSU went 7:07 without another field goal until Andre Wesson's three at 4:43.

That was fool's gold, however, tempting him to take an utterly awful 3-point attempt two minutes later, early in the shot clock, with OSU trailing, 55-54.

Two WVU free throws preceded a C.J. Walker turnover, a quick and senseless Luther Muhammed triple try and a wild Andre Wesson pass to the photographers out of bounds.

When experienced players like Walker, Muhammed and Wesson panic in crunch time, your team will not win.

Lesson learned.

Provided, of course, it is learned.

"Coming in, I thought they were probably the best team we were playing right now in the non-conference," said Holtmann, whose team has notably beaten Villanova, North Carolina and Kentucky. "Just because of how they had been playing. So, give them credit. First and foremost, gotta give them credit. We've gotta shore up some things and get much better."

Or, suffer the consequences.

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