C.J. Jackson’s answer to a jokingly serious question reflected what helped make him so successful on Thursday night.
In an 83-73 win over No. 16 Wisconsin, the Ohio State sophomore played his most complete game of the season, scoring a career-high 18 points while hitting all four of his three-point attempts and adding four assists and four rebounds in 32 minutes.
After playing for Eastern Florida State Community College last season, he topped double digits for only the second time this season and looked nothing like the player shooting 22.6 percent from three-point range entering the game.
So when he was asked what he ate for breakfast, Jackson replied, “I actually didn’t eat breakfast.”
It’s the kind of no-nonsense reply that mirrors a performance coach Thad Matta has been lauding all season. Against Wisconsin, his faith was validated in a big way.
“He was due,” Matta said. “He’s gone through a little bit of a transition, but this kid’s always got a smile on his face. He’s always in a good mood and I love that about him.”
After serving as JaQuan Lyle’s main backup for much of the season, Jackson replaced him in the starting lineup when the sophomore was felled by an ankle injury in February.
He has averaged 4.6 points this season, a number that ticks upward to 5.5 during Big Ten play, including what was a career-high 13 points with Lyle away for a family emergency Feb. 11 during a loss at No. 21 Maryland.
In a 23-point loss at Wisconsin last month, Jackson scored four points in 23 minutes and missed all four three-point attempts. He came to Ohio State having made 100 three-pointers last season while shooting 45 percent but hadn’t been able to replicate that form — at least, not yet.
“My teammates have great confidence in me,” Jackson said. “They encourage me to shoot more and that’s what I was doing tonight. I just wanted to be more aggressive and get my teammates involved. I kind of looked more for my shot more.”
It wasn’t just his shooting that helped spark the Buckeyes. Wisconsin had an early 6-4 lead, but Ohio State took control with a 9-0 run capped by consecutive baskets by Jackson. He banked a floater to push the lead to 11-6, and his jumper one possession later capped the run and forced the Badgers to call timeout with 14:57 left in the half to stem the momentum.
At the half, he had nine points, three assists and one turnover, and the Buckeyes led 44-31.
“I was so happy for C.J. in terms of, he puts in so much work,” Matta said. “He cares so much about the program, his teammates. To see the ball going in for him was really good. I thought he was really effective defensively as well. He had great aggressive patience. He probed a couple times, brought it back out and did a great job.”