Ohio State Submitting to Embarrassment Opponents Inflict

Bruce Hooley

Penn State's 90-76 humbling of No. 21 Ohio State was all but official when something happened that bought the lament of a former OSU coach echoing loudly from more than 20 years in the past.

As Lamar Stevens approached mid-court Saturday, 2:30 remained on the clock and the Lions owned a 12-point lead.

There wasn't likely time for the Buckeyes to rally, and Stevens had already turned in a tidy, efficient performance with a team-high 16 points, despite battling foul issues.

It was the juncture of the game where, given the score, Penn State figured to consume most of the shot clock, forcing OSU to foul.

Except Stevens, as he approached the center line, saw an opportunity to accentuate his team's atonement for a 106-74 loss in Columbus five weeks earlier.

So, instead of pulling the ball out and submitting to polite basketball convention, Stevens drove quickly past an unsuspecting OSU freshman E.J. Liddell and pounded down the lane toward the basket.

As he approached the bottom of the free throw circle, Stevens leaped and rose high, dunking thunderously as Ohio State's Kaleb and Andre Wesson both ducked for cover, rather than challenge him at the rim.

It was the final act of submission in an afternoon of thank-you-sir-may-I-have-another lethargy from the Buckeyes, who have free-fallen from No. 2 in the polls to likely out of the Top 25 Monday after a fifth loss in six games.

Somewhere, the raspy-voiced words of former OSU coach Jim O'Brien spoke to the posterization of Liddell and the Wesson brothers, who in that instance served to typify the timidity they and their teammates have played with for the better part of three weeks.

"You'd think somebody would knock him on his ass," O'Brien fumed back during his first season in 1998, when the Buckeyes passively allowed Minnesota's Sam Jacobson to pad his scoring average with repeated shots late in a blowout at Williams Arena.

O'Brien's first team then was on its way to an 18-game Big Ten losing streak -- something probably well beyond the ineptitude of the roster at Chris Holtmann's disposal, although in mindset this bunch is proving as weak-willed as any OSU squad since the disinterested JaQuan Lyle-Marc Loving squad that got Thad Matta fired four years ago.

There's been precious little enough's-enough on display lately from the third team under Holtmann's direction, and if some doesn't start showing up soon, it'll go from being the sixth team to reach No. 2 and then fall out of the polls in the same season to an even more select group of teams once ranked No. 2 to fall all the way out of the NCAA Tournament.

The Buckeyes get Minnesota -- which spanked them, 84-71, in early December -- on Thursday at home and then travel to Northwestern on Sunday.

Those two games are must-haves, as is the next one, a Feb. 1 home date with Indiana.

That would get OSU back to .500 in the Big Ten, after which things won't be easy, with back-to-back road games at Michigan and Wisconsin, but at least then there would be a path to a break-even finish in the conference and a certain NCAA berth.

But if the Buckeyes don't tire quickly of being the punchline on opposing players' highlight reels, they'll have a very long summer to ponder how a season of such promise deteriorated into one of the bigger collapses in Ohio State basketball history.

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