In all but one game this season, Ohio State has been in position to close out a victory. The challenge has been in getting to the finish line, and it’s part of the process for coach Chris Holtmann to find the closers on his roster.
That was on display Sunday in a 67-66 overtime loss to Butler in Portland, Oregon, at the PK80 Invitational, but the challenge of closing out a game has affected the Buckeyes more than once.
Two days earlier, Ohio State led by 10 points with 6:25 to play before Stanford closed to 58-53 with 5:58 to play. Then Holtmann went to a lineup of Keita Bates-Diop, Andrew Dakich, C.J. Jackson, Jae’Sean Tate and Kaleb Wesson for the first time.
That group stayed on the court and inched the lead to seven points with 1:52 remaining, when Andre Wesson replaced his brother. But the Buckeyes accomplished their mission with a 79-71 win.
Against Butler, with a 52-38 lead with 6:14 to play, Holtmann used a lineup of Bates-Diop, Dakich, Jackson, Tate and Andre Wesson. That group allowed Butler to close to 59-51 and was only broken up when Tate picked up his fifth foul and was replaced with Kaleb Wesson with 1:39 to go.
“We’re looking for guys that in those moments their eyes light up and they are ready for it,” Holtmann said. “Obviously, losing (Tate) there hurt us late, but I think we’ve got guys. That’s really what you’re looking for in those situations, and it’s been a real learning process for us as a coaching staff to figure out who that is.”
Holtmann said that if the coaches were polled on which players they most trust late in the game, there would be two or three consensus picks and the rest of the names would be “all over the map.”
Fifth-year senior Kam Williams said it comes down to just making the right plays regardless of who is on the court.
“Once we figure out how to execute, we’ll be fine,” he said. “We made some bad decisions as a team and we just didn’t execute.”
One change Holtmann has made the last two games has been to deploy both point guards in Jackson and backup Dakich at the same time. Against Stanford and Butler, the Buckeyes used nine lineup combinations featuring the two that hadn’t been used the first five games of the season.
That is something Ohio State fans might continue to see even as late-game lineups evolve.
“I think we did that late because we did have the lead in the last 10 minutes of both games and having two ball-handlers helps us, but I also thought Kam gave us some quality minutes and Musa (Jallow) will continue to play in the backcourt some as well,” Holtmann said.
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