STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The booms accompanying Aaron Craft’s exit from and re-entrance to the Ohio State locker room — at least one presumably made by his foot against the door — could well have been the Buckeyes hitting rock bottom.
Lenzelle Smith Jr. had said after a loss to Penn State a month ago that the team had hit “rock bottom,” and the Buckeyes rebounded to win six of seven games.
Now, after another loss to the last-place Nittany Lions last night, they are down on the mat again and guaranteed only four more games this season, and who knows whether they have another run in them. Craft, facing an inglorious end to a stellar career, didn’t appear to have the answer.
“You can’t take anything for granted,” Craft said after the Buckeyes squandered leads of 11 points in the first half and seven early in the second and lost 65-63 in the Bryce Jordan Center.
“First half against Minnesota (in which the Buckeyes scored 18 points on Saturday), we weren’t playing our basketball. The whole game tonight, we never found a way to get ourselves out of it.
“We can’t do that. This can’t be us unless we want to be home early and we want the offseason to start as soon as possible. That can’t be us.”
LaQuinton Ross scored 19 points to lead No. 22 Ohio State (22-7, 9-7 Big Ten), which with the loss was mathematically eliminated from a chance to share the Big Ten championship.
D.J. Newbill had 23 points and Tim Frazier 16 for Penn State (14-14, 5-10), which swept the season series from Ohio State for the first time since 1998, when the Buckeyes finished 8-22 and 1-15 in the conference.
“It’s a bad feeling,” Ross said. “Every loss to me is a bad feeling, but knowing what’s at stake, this one hurts a little bit more.”
Ohio State made eight of its first 13 shots from the field and led 22-11 barely 12 minutes into the game before bogging down against a zone defense Penn State switched to at that point.
Still, the Buckeyes, after trailing by five points with less than two minutes to play, had four chances to tie the score or take the lead in the last minute but couldn’t.
Craft, who played only 19 minutes because of foul trouble, squandered the first chance when he slipped and lost the ball out of bounds.
After Penn State turned the ball over for the second time in three possessions, a Trey McDonald lay-in trimmed the deficit to 64-63 with 27.4 seconds to play.
After Ross Travis missed two free throws with 20.7 seconds left, Ohio State used its last timeout with 15 seconds left. But the play coach Thad Matta drew up to get Ross a close look at the basket was denied by the Nittany Lions, and Craft, in the lane, was forced to pitch out to Smith on the left wing. His open three-pointer hit iron and caromed over the backboard, handing possession to Penn State with 10.3 seconds left.
“I was fine with the shot,” Matta said. “It was as good a shot as we were going to get” after the first option was denied.
Frazier was fouled by Shannon Scott with
6.8 seconds left and made one of two free throws for a 65-63 lead, giving Ohio State time to advance the ball upcourt for a tying or winning shot. It ended up in Smith’s hands again on the left wing and, after for some reason stepping behind the arc, he missed again, and Frazier rebounded with
1.2 seconds left.
Had Smith had time to get a closer look, even a layup?
“Maybe,” Matta said. “Like I always say, I’m not out there. Still, it was an open look.”