CHICAGO – A bloodied C.J. Jackson exited briefly in the first half, and Ohio State teammate Kyle Young did likewise with a bloody nose in the second.
But Indiana was the team that looked like it got punched in the face much of Thursday afternoon.
And IU’s 79-75 loss in Big Ten Tournament second-round play mirrored the Hoosier season since January.
Struggling for long stretches against quality, physical Big Ten opposition? Yep. Massive deficit incurred? Yep. Impassioned rally down the stretch? Yep. Ending up just a bit shy? Yep, unfortunately for the Hoosiers.
The final score hardly told the whole tale.
Ohio State, deploying an oft-suffocating defense, dominated much of the time. The Buckeyes posted a season-high 12 steals and scored 24 points off turnovers (compared to Indiana’s six).
OSU led by seven at halftime and built a 20-point lead with 7:25 to play.
But the Hoosiers – riding a career-high 26-point performance from junior guard Devonte Green, whose 3-point shooting was nothing short of spectacular – ripped off a ferocious 13-0 run in the next three minutes. The 26 points are the most ever scored in the Big Ten Tournament by an Indiana player.
And by the time IU freshman Romeo Langford followed up his own miss for a bucket with a minute to play, his team was within a single score at 72-69.
OSU grad-transfer guard Keyshawn Woods, as he had much of the day, responded with a clutch shot over Langford in the lane. Then big Buckeye sophomore Kaleb Wesson drew a charge that negated a Hoosier bucket at the other end.
Ohio State senior C.J. Jackson, a major thorn in Hoosier sides the past two seasons, supplied the sealing free throws at 0:03.3, helping the Buckeyes survive two deep Green 3s in the last 15 seconds.
“Congratulations to Ohio State (for) a really well-played game,” IU coach Archie Miller said afterward. “We just didn’t play at a high enough level for long enough stretches of the game, on either end of the floor, to keep ourselves in a little bit better striking distance.
“We just weren’t good enough at this game, at this level, for what was at stake. Needed to play smarter and sharper and, at the end of the day, be a little better defensively (with) rebounding. Those are things that we can control, which we didn’t.”
What was very arguably at stake was a NCAA tournament bid.
Asked about any NCAA tournament possibility in the wake of the loss, Miller replied:
“Are we capable? Yes. Did we do enough? I’m not sure.”
Neither team did enough early, offensively, Thursday.
With 11:36 left in the first half, the teams had combined for just 20 points, OSU holding an 11-9 edge. Indiana had hit just 3 of its first 16 shots from the field, but the Buckeyes were only 3 of 14.
Both teams were having issues finishing through contact – of which there was quite a bit on both ends. And the game stayed tight heading toward halftime, with strong finish inside by IU’s Juwan Morgan forging a 22-22 tie with 5:42 left.
But a Woods jumper ignited a 13-6 Buckeye run leading into intermission that was capped by a step-back Woods jumper to beat the buzzer that made it 35-28. IU’s only points in that stretch came from a pair of Green 3s.
Indiana had more turnovers (10) than made field goals (nine) at the half.
“That’s as poor as we’ve played offensively in a long time,” Miller said. “Giving them 17 points off turnovers in the first half really broke us down.”
OSU was winning the effort-level battle, too.
“In the locker room, we’d talked that we just had to play hard, had to win all the effort plays,” Woods told the Big Ten Network post-game. “We know how important this first game was to us and we came out and showed it.”
That continued for a long while after halftime, too.
A Jackson 3 from the left wing bumped the OSU lead to double-digits for the first time at 40-30, with 17:07 to play.
That was still the deficit for IU at 51-41 heading until 12 minutes left when another Woods bucket sparked another Buckeye blitz. And once freshman guard Luther Muhammad buried a 3 from the left wing with 7:30 left, IU looked dead and buried, a 63-43 trailer.
But reports of the Hoosiers’ demise proved premature.
“Once they broke it open, I thought our team kind of responded, like we normally have (this season),” Miller said. “That group that was in at the end of the game – to be back at 55 seconds in a one-possession game – showed a lot of heart, which this team has had a lot.
“It’s been some really tough sledding at times (this season). We’ve also had some good moments. But to finish the game like that was encouraging for the guys who were on the floor.”
Green, Langford, De’ Ron Davis, grad-transfer Evan Fitzner and Al Durham were the Hoosier five at that juncture.
After Green got the rally started with a 3 from the top of the key, Fitzner hit a bank shot, then a 3. Then came another Green 3 to make it 63-54, prompting a timeout by Buckeye coach Chris Holtmann with 4:56 to play.
That didn’t mitigate the Hoosier momentum. Davis scored inside. A bad Green pass led to a Jackson 3 for OSU, but a pair of determined Durham drives and another Davis bucket helped the Hoosiers keep pace heading into the final two minutes.
Another Fitzner 3 got IU within 72-65 with 1:20 left. After Muhammad missed a front-end bonus try at the other end, Langford scored on a break and then forced a jump-ball with Jackson that went to the Hoosiers.
Langford then converting off his own miss made it 72-69, concluding a 26-9 IU run, overall.
It was not enough, in the end.
Asked why the Hoosiers seemed to fine more intensity late than early, Langford replied:
“Our energy level wasn’t there on either end of the floor (early). Wasn’t playing our best ball … then something just clicked in our heads (late).”
“I don’t know,” Langford continued. “I don’t have an answer for that. You can say all you want but, for certain stretches, we didn’t do it. And we paid for it.”
Not that Green ever surrendered, bombing away till the bitter end.
“He was all we had there for a while,” Miller said of Green. “He stepped up there and made shots … I thought they crowded the dribble all day … they’re going to give some guys open shots, and you have to step up and make them.
“He’s really elevated his game these last three weeks. Without him, I don’t think we’re even close at the end. He’s had a really good final month, and that’s good to see for an older guy.”
Green’s eight 3s (in 10 attempts) set a Big Ten tourney single-game record.
But IU’s Big Ten tournament record remains abysmal at just 12-25, with just five wins in the past 20 outings, and Thursday’s result might well prove fatal regarding Hoosier NCAA hopes.
Kaleb Wesson’s return from a 3-game suspension was a big factor in that outcome. The 6-foot-9, 270-pound sophomore posted a double-double with 17 points and a game-high 13 boards – and, most importantly, supplied the Buckeyes with a post presence on both ends.
“Kaleb is very important to us, because he draws a lot of (defensive) attention,” Woods said. “With him drawing a lot of attention, it opens up the floor for everybody else. It shows how important he is to our team, and we’re just glad to have him back.”
Woods transferred in from Wake Forest this past off-season. He averaged 7.1 points for OSU this season. He finished with a team-high 18 Thursday, hitting 9 of 13 shots.
“The one goal in transferring from Wake Forest was that I wanted to get back to the (NCAA) tournament,” Woods said. “Where ever I went, I wanted to play with a team that wanted the same thing. And that’s what I got with these guys. I’m really happy that I’m here and that I got to be a Buckeye.”
The Buckeyes (19-13) also got 17 points from Jackson and 13 from junior winger Andre Wesson.
Morgan had 12 points as the only other Hoosier to join Green in double-figure scoring.
Miller, himself a successful point guard at North Carolina State during his playing days, felt it was no accident that OSU got key performances from its grad-transfer guard and its senior guard, or that Indiana’s most veteran guard gave the Hoosiers a chance at victory.
“Guards win at this time of year,” Miller said. “They’ve got to make plays. They’ve got to make shots. (Theirs) made some really big shots. Woods made like seven in a row in a tough stretch for us.
“And Kaleb (Wesson), let’s be honest, if he isn’t an all-conference player, I don’t know what one is.
“They’re a (NCAA) tournament team.”
If Indiana isn’t, it wasn’t as if it was beyond the Hoosiers’ capacity.
“If we are in the tournament, I believe our guys are capable of winning the game,” Miller said. “For me to speculate, it’s hard, but I do know this – our league was the toughest in the country this season.
“And to play the schedule we’ve played and to sort of come up with our head above water these last three weeks (winning four straight games before Thursday) is a good sign. We’ll obviously take whatever they give us. You earn what you get.”
Thursday, in a bruising and bloody brawl, the Buckeyes earned it.