The top-ranked Duke Blue Devils’ reign as college basketball’s undisputed team to beat was short-lived. Despite leading for much of the game, the Blue Devils faded late in a 71-66 loss to the unranked Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus, resetting the national conversation yet again and opening the door for the Purdue Boilermakers or another team to ascend to the top of the rankings next Monday.
Duke took a 43-30 lead into halftime, expanded its advantage to as many as 15 In the second half, and still held a fairly comfortable 66-59 lead after a made Trevor Keels free throw with 4:29 to play. The Blue Devils would not score another point. Chris Holtmann’s OSU squad finished the game on a 12-0 run, including 6 points from Cedric Russell (12 points) and 4 from E.J. Liddell (14 points) in the closing moments to salt away the win. Zed Key also posted a career-high 20 points for the Buckeyes.
ESPN’s team of Myron Medcalf, Jeff Borzello, John Gasaway and Joe Lunardi weighed in on what they saw, the way forward for Duke and Ohio State, and the Bracketology and national rankings implications of the Buckeyes’ triumph.
Zed Key had a well-timed career game with 20 points against Duke on Tuesday night. Jay LaPrete/AP Photo
What caused Duke to fall apart late in its loss to Ohio State?
Duke entered the second half with a double-digit lead, a lead that felt insurmountable. The Blue Devils were comfortable. But Ohio State put more pressure on the Blue Devils in the second half and forced some tough shots that didn’t fall, shots that had fallen in the first half. Duke led 51-39 on Jeremy Roach’s jumper with 17:07 to play in the game. Duke didn’t score another field again until the 11:06 mark. The Blue Devils went cold, missing eight consecutive field goal attempts during that stretch. While Duke still maintained a double-digit lead when Mark Williams scored with 11 minutes, 6 seconds to play, the vibe was changing. There were two Duke field goals the rest of the game, which opened the door for Ohio State’s late comeback.
We saw Duke hold off a feisty Gonzaga squad in Las Vegas last week in a back-and-forth matchup and a wild environment at T-Mobile Arena. But that crowd was, at a minimum, 50/50 for the Blue Devils. The matchup in Columbus was Duke’s first true road game of the season. Value City Arena is a wild place. The noise kinda sits on top of you. When Duke went cold, the crowd could sense an opportunity and a Duke squad that had not encountered that hostility crumbled late. Duke fell apart because it couldn’t score, but the Ohio State crowd deserves an MVP vote, too. — Medcalf
Paolo Banchero had a quiet second half for the Blue Devils in a losing effort. Jay LaPrete/AP Photo
What was Duke missing on Tuesday that we saw in its epic win over Gonzaga on Friday?
Offense. The Blue Devils went static in the second half against Ohio State, scoring just 23 points and hitting 7-of-31 tries from the field after the intermission. Paolo Banchero wasn’t limited by cramping this time, but for whatever reason he was 0-for-7 from the floor in the second half. Give full credit to the Buckeyes. With the notable exception of Wendell Moore Jr., Duke’s shooters were forced into tough 2-point looks repeatedly as the game progressed. For the game, the Blue Devils were held to 41% shooting inside the arc as they scored 66 points in a 70-possession contest.
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This is still a team that beat Gonzaga and one that can win it all in April, of course. Any offense with Banchero, Moore and Mark Williams won’t often record such a low success rate on its 2s. Still, after eight games, we can perhaps at least raise the question of whether perimeter shooting is going to be an issue for this group. On the season, Duke is hitting just 32.7% of its 3s. If the Blue Devils can’t hit open looks from outside, Mike Krzyzewski’s stars will find they have less space to operate on the interior. It definitely bears watching.
Zed Key rocks the rim with a two-handed flush and Mark Williams answers with one of his own on the next possession.
Was this a one-game aberration for Ohio State or are the Buckeyes going to matter nationally?
If it’s an aberration, it’s going to be a one-half aberration because they weren’t very good in the first 20 minutes. The Buckeyes had a slew of self-inflicted mistakes in the first half, turning the ball over too often and missing free throws. In the second half, their defense tightened up and they began to have a lot of success playing through their frontcourt and getting Zed Key operating one-on-one in the post with plenty of space. And I think that’s probably their, uh, key moving forward. He put on a clinic in the post on Tuesday night, consistently getting great position and finishing over the length of Mark Williams and Theo John. But his 20 points against Duke were more than he had in the last three games combined. He needs to be consistent moving forward.
Aside from Key, another area to watch will be the perimeter group. Ohio State has struggled to get consistent point guard and backcourt play this season, but Chris Holtmann might have found a way to stretch opposing defenses on Tuesday. Cedric Russell, an all-conference player at Louisiana last season, shot 40% from 3-point range in 2020-21 but had played just 23 minutes total this season. On Tuesday, he played 16 minutes off the bench, making three 3s and scoring 12 points.
E.J. Liddell is an All-American candidate and he showed on Tuesday he can impact a game even when he’s not putting up huge scoring numbers. He had 14 points, 14 rebounds and six assists — including a difficult bucket in the final minute to put Ohio State up three. Liddell is going to be a constant for the Buckeyes.
One big thing to remember: Ohio State is playing without Justice Sueing and Seth Towns. Sueing, who averaged 10.7 points last season, is out indefinitely with an abdominal injury, while Towns is out after undergoing back surgery. Sueing in particular will give Holtmann another consistent offensive weapon and someone who can initiate offense for others.
Holtmann is still clearly figuring out his best lineups — while also waiting for his injured players to return — but there’s enough on the roster in Columbus to be a Top 25 team all season.
Trevion Williams has eyes on the back of his head for Purdue, finding a cutting Mason Gillis with a slick no-look pass.
Does this mean No. 2 Purdue, which destroyed Florida State on Tuesday, is the team to beat nationally?
The Boilermakers will absolutely move to No. 1 in the rankings if they can beat Iowa on Friday. Purdue has looked like the most consistently impressive team in the country through November — Matt Painter has a little bit of everything. Zach Edey and Trevion Williams are the most dominant post duo in the country and the way Williams has accepted moving to the bench after being viewed as a preseason All-American-caliber player is indicative of how connected and together the Boilermakers are this season. Jaden Ivey is a game-changer with the ball in his hands and he’s starting to be more aggressive as a playmaker. And Painter has surrounded those three stars with skilled shooters and role players. They can score in the paint with ease, they shoot better than 44% from 3-point range and they share the ball exceptionally well. It’s the most efficient offense in the country for a reason. Purdue has had a couple poor stretches on the defensive end, but has been able to lock down when it matters.
The Boilermakers also have the wins to back up what we’re seeing with our eyes and in the numbers. They beat Villanova in Connecticut, they pulled away late from North Carolina and they absolutely pummeled Florida State on Tuesday.
What are the Bracketology implications for Duke? For Ohio State?
On our board, Duke remains a No. 1 seed despite coughing up its Big Ten/ACC Challenge game at Ohio State. By March, the “how” won’t matter as much as the “what.” In other words, a Quad 1 road loss isn’t what would cost the Blue Devils a top seed. For now, we’d reconfigure the top line in this order: Purdue (Midwest), Baylor (South), Duke (East) and Gonzaga (West). UCLA remains next in line.
Ohio State, meanwhile, is a big winner in terms of seed list positioning. The Buckeyes entered this game No. 27 overall (a No. 7 seed in Bracketology). The win will lift them at least a half-dozen spots, in the overall No. 20-21 range. That’s a full seed in the bracket, and maybe more by the time we update everything on Friday. It’s the perfect way for Ohio State to head into its conference opener on Sunday at Penn State.