Chris Holtmann ejected, Ohio State's misery continues as Wisconsin wins in Columbus
The problem with a free fall is that the object falling doesn't know where the bottom is until contact is made.
The 2022-23 Ohio State Buckeyes are still looking for it.
Riding a two-game losing streak and a longer stretch of seven losses in eight games, the embattled Buckeyes returned to the friendly confines of Value City Arena in search of a palette-cleanser. The main course on the menu: a similarly struggling Wisconsin team that had lost six of its last seven games.
First, coach Chris Holtmann was ejected. Then, Brice Sensabaugh fouled out. And after trailing by as many as 18 points, the Buckeyes (11-11, 3-8 Big Ten) rallied late, made it interesting but fell, 65-60, to the Badgers (13-8, 5-6).
"We just all have to be better," Holtmann said. "It begins with me. I lost my composure. That’s on me. It’s fully my responsibility. I deserved the first technical. We all have to be better. Our start has to be better. We have to play harder. We certainly have to play smarter. I’ve got to coach better. All those things."
Without Holtmann, associate head coach Jake Diebler took over the lead coaching responsibilities. Utilizing a veteran-heavy lineup, Ohio State trailed by double digits for the entirety of the second half until Felix Okpara hit two free throws with 4:15 remaining to pull within 62-54.
Zed Key pulled the Buckeyes within two possessions with a basket with 3:08 left, and a Justice Sueing jumper made it 62-58 with a little more than a minute to play. Then, with 30 seconds left, he scored and drew contact but missed the free throw to get Ohio State within 62-60.
But when the Buckeyes fouled Chucky Hepburn to stop the clock with 24.2 seconds left, he hit both free throws. The last one hit every part of the rim before falling through, but it made it a two-possession game. And when Sueing came up empty at the other end, the outcome was decided.
"From the beginning, we didn’t come out with the force we needed to," Key said. "As an older guy, I take ownership of that. That’s on me. We’ve got to come out with more fight, more bite in the beginning and we wouldn’t be in this position that we’re in, trying to claw back in the second half."
It marked the second time Holtmann has been ejected from a game. Holtmann earned a second technical foul with one second remaining in a 71-67 loss at Michigan State on Feb. 25, 2021. It also marked the second straight game in which Holtmann had earned a technical foul after not picking up any in the first 19 games of the season.
Holtmann's ejection came roughly two hours after athletic director Gene Smith reiterated his belief in the coach in a pregame interview with The Dispatch, calling him "our coach of the future."
Holtmann wasn't around for the second half, and leading scorer Sensabaugh wasn't available for the final 9:20 of the game. He picked up his fifth foul on an attempted offensive rebound, ending his night with 13 points on 5 of 8 shooting in 16 minutes of playing time.
"The first couple possessions we didn’t guard him too well," Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. "He has the capability of getting his own shot at any time. He’s a terrific player. Fortunately we got him into some foul trouble."
Wisconsin's Connor Essegian led all scorers with 17 points. Sueing had a game- and season-high 11 rebounds, 10 on the defense end, as the Badgers had only four offensive rebounds. The Buckeyes won the rebounding battle, 45 to 26, but could only turn 12 offensive rebounds into eight second-chance points.
Of Ohio State's 16 turnovers, five came from Isaac LIkekele and three from Sueing.
Wisconsin took the lead on the opening possession, and when Max Klesmit hit a 3-pointer to make it 8-0 only 1:33 into the game, Holtmann called timeout to address a few things with his players. It briefly stemmed the tide, and when freshman Brice Sensabaugh scored eight straight points the Buckeyes tied the game with 16:13 to play. Wisconsin immediately reclaimed it on the next possession on a jumper from Chucky Hepburn, and the Badgers would steadily build from there.
Ohio State gave Wisconsin plenty of help along the way. Trailing 21-16, the Buckeyes turned it over on four consecutive possessions, all of them unenforced, and it would remain a problem as the half progressed. At the half, Ohio State had 11 turnovers.
"That’s not an Xs and Os thing or a coaches’ thing, that’s a player’s thing," fifth-year Oklahoma State transfer point guard Isaac Likekele said of the team finishing with 16 turnovers. "After they teach us to play off of two feet in the lane all the time, I play off one and I pass it and it’s a turnover. It’s stuff like that that’s on us as players and we’ve got to correct it. I’ve got to correct it."
But with 3:51 left in the half and the Wisconsin lead at 33-18, Sensabaugh finished a three-point play to start a brief rally that generated some buzz, and Ohio State was within 35-28 on a Key basket with 1:18 left in the half when it all fell apart.
Hepburn scored on a drive past Key to push it back to a 10-point deficit, and when Justice Sueing was called for a charge to negate a made basket with 27.7 seconds left, an enraged Holtmann charged up the court screaming at the officials. He was briefly held back by Key and multiple assistants but continued yelling, picking up two technical fouls and departing for the locker room.
As reward, Essegian stepped to the line for four free throws. An 89.5% shooter on the season, he hit all four of them, and when Hepburn swished a jumper in the final seconds it capped a six-point possession and sent the Badgers into the half with a 43-27 lead.
It wasn’t the only time Wisconsin was awarded extra free throws during the half. Sensabaugh picked up a flagrant 1 foul after turning the ball over with 2:54 left, his third of the half. By halftime, Ohio State had the same number of turnovers as made shots – 11. The Badgers turned those into a 13-5 advantage in points off turnovers.
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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Chris Holtmann ejected, Ohio State loses to Wisconsin