Ohio State’s best player says things can’t get any worse for the Buckeyes.
“You can’t get any lower than this; you can only go higher,” Tayler Hill said softly. “We can only go up from this point.”
The perennial powerhouse dropped to a stunning 1-6 in Big Ten play — and tied for last — with Sunday’s 71-56 loss to No. 8 Penn State at home.
Everyone associated with the team is mystified but also discouraged by the season. The Buckeyes were a sterling 132-9 in Columbus in the eight previous years under coach Jim Foster. Yet they’ve lost two of the last three at Value City Arena and have dropped games to losing teams (Wisconsin, Washington State) that have many scratching their heads.
Adding to the enigma that is the current team is that it is capable of playing superbly. The Buckeyes (11-9, 1-6) ended the half on a 10-0 run and when Hill scored the first basket of the second half led 39-28.
But then the roof caved in.
“We certainly can’t be a 20-minute basketball team,” said a frustrated Foster, who has a glittering 776-302 (.719) record in his 35th year as a head coach at Saint Joseph’s, Vanderbilt and Ohio State. “We have to grind a lot better than we grinded in the second half. There’s some players getting opportunities and you need to take advantage of your opportunity.”
Hill certainly is. She played every second of the game, scoring 28 points to add to her Big Ten-leading average and adding two assists, two blocked shots and a steal.
Freshman point guard Ameryst Alston added 12 points but was victimized by the veterans from Penn State (17-2, 7-0) for six turnovers. Boardman High graduate Darryce Moore started and scored three points with two rebounds in 14 minutes for the Buckeyes.
In one of the few glimmers of good news to filter through the loss, the Buckeyes regained the services of senior guard Amber Stokes, who had missed the last four games with a sprained knee. She received a loud ovation when she entered the game and quickly hit two jumpers.
But the Buckeyes shot just 35 percent from the field, missed eight free throws and committed 16 turnovers that resulted in 22 points for the Nittany Lions.
With the Buckeyes hanging on to a 41-39 lead, the Nittany Lions took the lead for good with a 9-0 run.
Ohio State never got closer than five points again as the Nittany Lions slowly pulled away.
“We just had mental breakdowns. A few turnovers and then they scored five or six points because we’re not boxing out [on free throws], we’re not paying attention to detail,” Hill said. “You don’t pay attention to detail, that’s how the game starts to slip away from you.”