CHICAGO — Justice Sueing stood in the middle of the court waiting for the ball with a smile on his face.
The second half of Saturday afternoon’s Big Ten semi-final game was about to begin, and 13th-seeded Ohio state was losing oil, if not gas. An unprecedented run in the tournament came at a price, and although the Buckeyes had led over No. 1 Purdue for most of the first half, the writing seemed to be on the wall.
Purdue led 42-34, but as Sueing prepared to receive the ball from the referee, he looked across the court, eyed his teammates, and clapped. The sixth-year forward and team captain was ready for what was to come, and the hope was to be back on that court Sunday and playing for an NCAA tournament berth.
Ohio State Horse Chestnuts:Join the Ohio State Sports Insider Text Group with Bill Rabinowitz, Joey Kaufman Adam Jardy
It should not be. The first Big Ten team to play in Wednesday’s opening round to make the weekend failed to make the title game as Ohio State (16-19) edged out with an 80-66 semifinal loss to the Boilermakers (28-5 ) dropped out of the tournament. .
Survive and win: March Madness Survivor Pools from USA TODAY
True to late season form, the Buckeyes kept coming back. With 5:43 minutes remaining, Felix Okpara pulled the first foul of the game on Purdue’s Zach Edey, hitting one of two free throws and drawing the Buckeyes within 61-55. And when Edey missed at the other end, Ohio State had a chance to pull even closer, only to find Bruce Thornton’s left elbow jumper, which hit the rim and bounced out.
Edey then pulled a foul off the ball, hit two free throws and pushed it back to an eight-point play, putting him on 29 points and 10 rebounds to that point. The rest was essentially academic as Purdue advanced to the title game for the second straight season.
Edey was the difference. When Ohio State hit shots early but tired legs failed them late, the big man just kept going and finished with 34 points on 12 of 25 shots. Roddy Gayle led Ohio State with 20 points and Sueing added 15.
The 19 losses are the highest for Ohio State since the Buckeyes went 8-22 overall and 1-15 in the Big Ten in 1997-98.
The loss means the end of Sean McNeil, Isaac Likekele and Sueing from Ohio State. It also marks the start of the official decision clock for Ohio State’s top scorer and prospective first-round draft pick, Brice Sensabaugh, who has a decision to make. He missed his second game with a season-ending knee injury sustained in Thursday’s win against No. 5 Iowa.
Decisions could also come for the players at the back of the bench, Tanner Holden, Kalen Etzler and Bowen Hardman, all three of whom have been used lightly at best over the course of the season. Despite missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2017, coach Chris Holtmann will return for a seventh season after receiving both a vote of confidence from athletic director Gene Smith and publicly stating that he “absolutely” plans on getting into the program to stay.
Smith told The Dispatch on Friday that the NIT should consider the Buckeyes for a bid at large, win or lose, despite their under-.500 record.
As expected from the tournament’s top seeds, Purdue came out firing and took control early. And, as might be expected from the tournament’s second-lowest seed, Ohio State took the hit, reacted, and made themselves comfortable. The Boilermakers held a 10-4 lead before the first media timeout and were leading 17-13 after Zach Edey fed Caleb Furst for a dunk, but this is where Roddy Gayle started to take over with a barrage of 3s.
He hit one in the right corner to cap a string of six straight Ohio State possessions in points, and when he swept one off the right wing on a cross-court pass from Isaac Likekele, he even drew the state for the first time Ohio at 19- all to play 12-39 and was the start of a 10-0 run booked by another Gayle 3 — his fourth of the game — who gave Ohio State a 26-19 lead at halftime .
But when Edey checked back in with 9:59 minutes remaining, the Boilermakers began using his size and physical dominance to wear the Buckeyes down. He helped turn the score when Edey was pulled to the deck by Ohio State’s Gene Brown III when Braden Smith hit a jumper. The 6-7, 195-pound wing was assessed a Flagrant 1 foul for a hook and hold, giving Edey two free throws and allowing Purdue to retain possession.
He hit the free throws and then, on subsequent possession, made a six-point trip for Purdue on the court and turned Ohio State’s 31-27 lead into a 33-31 advantage. Gayle would respond with another 3, his fifth in as many tries to that point, but it was Ohio State’s only hit in the last 6:47 of the half. As Purdue turned up his defense, the Buckeyes turned them over five times during that stretch, limping in at the half 42-34.
The Boilermakers ended the half on a 17-3 run, helped by a quick miss by Likekele on a floater that gave Purdue plenty of time for a final shot that David Jenkins Jr. shot from within 3-point range in the closing seconds directly buried .