COLUMBUS (AP) — His head down, his cheeks a fiery red, Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft was asked what it was like to go through a week when you played two of the top three teams in the nation.
“A typical week in the conference,” Craft said, only half joking.
After losing 76-74 in overtime at third-ranked Michigan on Tuesday night, the 10th-ranked Buckeyes came up short again on Sunday at home in an 81-68 loss to top-ranked Indiana, 81-68.
While the Hoosiers (21-3, 9-2 Big Ten) were able to bounce back after collapsing down the stretch in a devastating 74-72, last-second defeat at Illinois on Thursday night, the Buckeyes could not in the rough-and-tumble Big Ten.
Deshaun Thomas, the conference’s leading scorer, had 26 points playing 40 minutes. He said the Buckeyes (17-6, 7-4) had the desire but maybe just didn’t have enough energy — or maybe were just outplayed.
“Coming off that Michigan loss, we showed heart. We fought really hard,” he said. “We knew IU was going to be a good, a tough team. We thought we had our minds right. But they were ready to play. They kept their composure when we made our run. They got to the loose balls that we didn’t get to. And they got out with the win.”
Craft scored 16 points before fouling out for only the second time in 47 career games in the conference. LaQuinton Ross chipped in with 11 points.
But they were no match for Indiana’s big three: Victor Oladipo scored a career-high 26 points, Cody Zeller added 24 and Christian Watford 20.
The Buckeyes never led over the last 30 minutes. On top of that, it seemed that every time they strung together a couple of good plays in a row the Hoosiers responded with a couple of their own.
Indiana had not sealed the deal coming down the stretch at Illinois, being outscored 12-3 to the finish including giving up an unguarded layup in the final second for the margin of victory.
Not this time, however. They learned from that awful setback and this time slammed the door shut.
“We know we didn’t (close out the game) the other night,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “They (the players) knew it. It’s one thing to talk it as a coach, it’s another thing to see it on film, but it’s a whole other thing when they absorb it. They absorbed that we got away from what we were doing.”
The Buckeyes used a 12-5 run midway through the first half to take a 16-14 lead, but then the Hoosiers started pounding the ball into the 7-foot Zeller. When he wasn’t causing trouble for Ohio State’s three big men — two of whom had early foul trouble — then Oladipo making an athletic play in transition or Watford was banging in one of his four 3-point baskets.
Indiana led 41-33 at the half but Ohio State cut it to 43-39 after Thomas, an Indiana native, hit all three attempts after he was fouled behind the arc by Hoosiers freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell, who went to the bench with his third foul.
Rather than wilt, however, the Hoosiers pulled away.
Oladipo spun and hit a 12-footer in the lane and then tossed in a 3 from the right wing to push the lead to nine points.
Each time the Buckeyes would come up with a basket or defensive stop, Indiana would counter. Watford’s 3 with 9:24 left made it 62-46 and completely deflated a capacity crowd of 18,809.
After Ross got a bucket in traffic, Watford flipped in another 3 for a 67-54 lead.
Ohio State got as close as eight points in the final minute but this time the Hoosiers — who shot 53 percent from the field, the highest figure against the Buckeyes all year — would not collapse. Oladipo closed out the game with four free throws for his career best.
The loss dropped the Buckeyes two games behind co-leaders Michigan State and Indiana in the Big Ten with seven games remaining: Northwestern, Minnesota, Michigan State and Illinois at home, at Wisconsin, Northwestern and Indiana.
It also ended the nation’s longest run of avoiding a losing streak. Ohio State had gone 121 games without losing back-to-back outings, dating to January of 2010.
“As I told the guys afterward, we didn’t have what we needed today to win this game just in terms of making the plays that we needed to make,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “We deflected balls and we didn’t come up with them, we had rebounds hit us in the hands and we didn’t come up with them.
“In this level of a game, that can’t happen,” Matta said.
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