The second-seeded Ohio State men’s basketball team couldn’t stay out of its own way on Friday, and the result was a stunning 75-72 overtime loss to 15-seeded Oral Roberts in the opening round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
E.J. Liddell led the Buckeyes with 23 points and 13 rebounds, and Duane Washington Jr. added 18 points and 10 rebounds, but neither performance was enough to overcome the poor offensive execution of the team as a whole. Ohio State shot just 5-23 from three-point range and 9-18 from the free-throw line on the day, adding in 15 turnovers for good measure.
Oral Roberts’ two-headed scoring monster of Max Abmas and Kevin Obanor was as advertised, combining to score 59 points en route to just the third-ever tournament win for the Golden Eagles.
Ohio State got off to an inauspicious start in the opening minutes of the game, falling down 7-0 to Oral Roberts following a made three-pointer by Abmas, but the Buckeyes stormed back with a 10-0 run to take its first lead of the game with 16:29 still to play in the first half.
A pair of free throws from C.J. Walker opened up an eight-point lead for Ohio State midway through the half as Oral Roberts was stuck in a dreadful shooting slump that saw it miss 15 of 16 attempts. But as was the case all afternoon, the Buckeyes simply weren’t able to take advantage of their opportunities.
Suffering through a field goal drought of its own, one that lasted more than four minutes, Ohio State couldn’t ramp up its pressure on Oral Roberts, and the Golden Eagles finally responded. An 8-2 spurt, led entirely by Obanor, got Oral Roberts within two points, and a minute later, Abmas knocked down one of his five threes to recapture the lead.
The Golden Eagles’ late first-half lead grew to as many as six points with 3:29 to play, but a layup from Liddell brought the Buckeyes to within three as the two teams headed to the locker room.
Out of the break, Ohio State scored the first two baskets of the second half to quickly pull in front, but Oral Roberts responded, setting up a back-and-forth affair over the next seven minutes that saw the lead change hands several times.
Carlos Jurgens’ layup with 12:46 to play had Oral Roberts back out in front by seven at 49-42 as Ohio State continued to struggle in its search for a semblance of rhythm on offense. Walker’s and-one finish at the rim snapped a five-minute scoring drought for the Buckeyes and drew them within four as the final period approached the halfway point.
A 9-4 run by Ohio State over the next three minutes had the Buckeyes back out in front as the game entered the final stretch and the pressure of the prospective upset continued to rise inside Mackey Arena, but the momentum was shortlived.
The two teams traded punches in the closing minutes, neither able to deliver the defining blow to their opponent. Ohio State appeared poised to finally do just that when Liddell was fouled, sending him to the line with the Buckeyes holding a 63-60 lead with three minutes to play.
Liddell was only able to split on the attempts, however, a bit of foreshadowing to the free-throw struggles that were just getting started for Ohio State.
Clinging to a four-point lead as the clock approached the final minute, Ohio State sent Obanor to the line for two shots, which he calmly knocked down to cut the Golden Eagles’ deficit to 64-62.
Washington Jr. missed a runner on the ensuing possession, but Liddell appeared to have made the play of the game as he skyed above multiple players to secure the offensive rebound. Liddell was eventually fouled with 46 seconds remaining, sending him to the line for a one-and-one and a chance to put the Buckeyes back up by two possessions.
Liddell couldn’t cash in, though, as the front end of the free throws rimmed out, keeping Oral Roberts within a basket as Francis Lacis secured the rebound.
Out of a timeout, Oral Roberts wisely elected to go to Obanor once more, and he drew contact and a whistle on Musa Jallow, sending him back to the line for the game-tying free throws. Obanor connected on both, knotting the score at 64 with 15 seconds to play.
Washington Jr. found a decent look at the buzzer for a potentual game-winner, but his long jumper was short, sending the game to an extra period.
Obanor’s heroic performance continued into overtime, where he scored the first five points of the period to give Oral Roberts a 69-64 lead just over a minute into the period. A jumper from Abmas had the Golden Eagles out in front by six with 2:12 remaining, forcing Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann to call a timeout as the Buckeyes were reeling.
Following the timeout, a tough finish by Washington Jr., with the foul, cut the Buckeyes’ deficit to three and offered some life. On their next possession, it was Washington Jr. once again getting to the rim and drawing contact for two free throws and the chance to get within a point of Oral Roberts.
Washington Jr. was unable to hit either free throw, though, and an Oral Roberts free throw on the other end pushed the Golden Eagles lead to two possessions with under 30 seconds to play.
A three-pointer from Liddell kept Ohio State’s survival bid on life support temporarily, bringing the Buckeyes within a point with 17 seconds on the clock. But after two free throws by Obanor increased Oral Roberts’ lead to 75-72, two last-second attempts from Justin Ahrens and Washington Jr. would not fall as the Oral Roberts bench spilled onto the court in celebration.
With the loss, Ohio State becomes just the ninth two seed in tournament history to fall to a 15 seed in the opening round. The Buckeyes are the first to suffer the feat since Middle Tennessee State defeated Michigan State in 2016.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.