ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A game Saturday night at the Crisler Center was just like any other, Ohio State sophomore guard C.J. Jackson said.
Only this time, for the first time at the Division I level, Jackson heard his name announced along with the rest of the starters. A strong performance down the stretch Tuesday in a loss to No. 17 Maryland coupled with an ankle injury to JaQuan Lyle created the opportunity for Jackson, a junior college second-team All-American.
Jackson tied his high in Big Ten play with eight points and made a career-high eight rebounds in a career-high 28 minutes to help guide the Buckeyes to a 70-66 win over the Wolverines.
It’s not known yet whether Jackson will start Wednesday at Value City Arena against Rutgers. But against Michigan, he provided a necessary shot in the arm to a team that had lost two straight and three of its last four.
“I just approached it the same way, get my teammates involved, do what I can, get some loose balls and bring energy the same way I do when I come off the bench,” he said.
After being benched for the final 12:12 of the six-point loss to the Terrapins, Lyle watched his teammates mount a spirited-yet-unsuccessful comeback attempt. Then, two drills into Thursday’s practice, Lyle turned an ankle and did not take part in basketball activities until warmups Saturday afternoon.
Lyle played a conference-low 23 minutes and did not make a field goal. He missed both attempts, but he went 3 of 4 from the free-throw line during the final minutes.
“Valiant effort on his part to come through and I thought he played pretty well,” coach Thad Matta said of Lyle. “You could tell he wasn’t moving quite as well as he needed to but did a great job.”
Jackson, who is generously listed at 6 feet 1, had all eight of his rebounds during the first half and single-handedly tied Michigan’s team total. When presented with Jackson’s stat line, senior forward Marc Loving grinned and laughed.
“That says it all right there,” he said. “He’s really active in practice and he doesn’t mind putting his nose in there and sacrificing it for the team. It’s not that big of a surprise, but in a game of the magnitude like today it’s a bit of a surprise.”
Jackson said he learned for sure that he would be starting Saturday, although he bore a sheepish grin Friday when asked a question about guarding Michigan's players.
“That doesn’t matter,” he said. “It’s about Ohio State. It’s not about me, so I’m just glad we got the win.”