Even when the scoreboard showed that things were going well, Chris Holtmann was concerned throughout Wednesday’s game against Clemson.

At the half, Ohio State led 37-30 and looked pretty dominant in doing so. The Buckeyes were 8 of 15 from three (53.3 percent) and had 12 assists on 14 field goals, but there were other stats that had their coach concerned.

For instance, Ohio State had a total of five defensive deflections entering the under-4 media timeout of the half. And until the Buckeyes fouled three times during the final 7.1 seconds to continuously frustrate a final Clemson position, they had committed only two first-half fouls. Plus, they had been out-rebounded, 16-15.

It all pointed to a growing concern for Holtmann that ultimately proved reality.

“I just think overall, I expected our effort defensively to be better,” he said. “Listen, I’m not saying we want to foul, but when you have one or two fouls with 30 seconds in the first half, that speaks something to your overall activity. When you have less than five deflections going in the four-minute media (timeout) in the first half, that says something about our activity. It’s not good enough (against) a team that can score like this.”

Clemson has only been held under 78 points this season, and it lost that one, 67-60, to Temple. The Tigers beat the Buckeyes 79-65, overcoming a 13-point first-half deficit in the process.

It’s why while this had a lot of similarities to Ohio State’s loss to Butler on Sunday in the PK80 Invitational in Portland, Oregon, Holtmann said the parallels didn’t even cross his mind.

Junior forward Keita Bates-Diop, who had Ohio State’s first eight points and finished with a team-high 21, said the losses like these have to stop. Asked what the Buckeyes need to do, he didn’t discuss specifics.

“Going into practice and working on it,” he said. “That’s all we can do, is try to get better every day and use these games as learning experiences and try to stop having these same lessons being taught to us.”

Holtmann’s hire this summer was never going to be a cure-all for the struggles that have plagued the program for the last two years. The core of this team was around for teams where discord was rampant, no lead felt safe and no team was a guaranteed victory for the Buckeyes.

There are mentalities and habits Holtmann is still working to change. Some of the past might have been at work today, too.

“We have some guys that genuinely want to win and can get wrapped up in the emotion of it and get frustrated, kind of ‘here we go again,’ ” Holtmann said. “We have to find a way to not have that thinking. I really think it’s baby steps when it comes to that right now. Hopefully we’ll get there. We’ve had some good moments with that, but not tonight.”

New offer

The Buckeyes did make some recruiting news shortly before the game. Meechie Johnson, a point guard from Garfield Heights, Ohio, in the class of 2021, was offered while on an unofficial visit. Rankings for the class are hard to come by for obvious reasons, but a website called coast2coastpreps.com ranks Johnson as the No. 49 overall prospect in his class and No. 2 in Ohio. 

Wow !!!! OHIO STATE JUST OFFERED MY NEPHEW MEECHIE JOHNSON GOD IS GREAT. We do what we do hard work always pays off. pic.twitter.com/S7Nhh80Ujx

— Sonny Johnson (@sonnyjohnson32) November 30, 2017

Challenge

The loss continues a run of misery for the Buckeyes in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Since beating Maryland on Dec. 4, 2013, Ohio State has now lost four straight games to drop to 7-10 overall.

The last three Ohio State losses came by a combined total of 16 points. Today’s loss was by 14 points.

Fatigue

Bates-Diop, who played a team-high 37 minutes, denied the thought that fatigue affected the Buckeyes in the second half.

“We took it pretty lightly in practice two days ago,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it was a fatigue thing.”

It’s fair to mention that Clemson hadn’t played since last Friday. The Buckeyes played twice that day, then faced Butler on Sunday before flying home and re-acclimating to the three-hour time difference.

In citing the aforementioned lack of deflections or fouls, Holtmann indicated that the travel could have been a factor.

“More than anything tonight, I just didn’t think we had enough juice,” he said. “Maybe I need to use the bench more. I just didn’t think we had enough, whether fatigue had something to do with it, it just didn’t look like we had enough.”

The schedule has also meant the Buckeyes haven’t had much chance to work on their issues.

“We haven’t been able to practice a whole lot,” he said. “I was not particularly pleased with our practice (Tuesday) and I’ve let them know that. It’s been so choppy with our practice times because of the schedule. I think I was seeing some progress, but we need to get back to where we have some consistent practice time. That’s not going to come for a while. We need to get back to that.”

Out

Sophomore center Micah Potter led the Buckeyes on the court for pregame warmups and was dressed in uniform, but he didn’t play as he missed his second of four games with a lingering ankle injury suffered late in the Nov. 19 home win against Northeastern.

“I was going to give Micah a spell,” Holtmann said. “He was favoring it a lot yesterday in practice. I expect that he’ll be able to play on Saturday (at Wisconsin). He’s not been able to have the kind of practice. He’s got very limited lift on it right now. No explosion. It’s kind of day-to-day. I think he’s capable of giving us some minutes but it’s in a somewhat limited form right now until he gets his strength fully back.”

Bates-Diop, who has logged minutes at center, was asked if the Buckeyes felt shorthanded without Potter.

“It’s not like it’s a super long game,” he said. “It’s 40 minutes. You can get guys in and out of there. Me, (Andre Wesson), Kyle (Young), (Jae’Sean Tate), we all rotate and Kaleb (Wesson) playing the 4 and the 5. It shouldn’t be a problem.”

Stats

A few key numbers that stood out to me:

*In 17 minutes off the bench, Kam Williams was 0 for 2 from the floor and had one rebound. His individual plus-minus rating was a team-worst minus-15. That’s a tough stat line to overcome.

*Tate was 3 of 10 from the field and tied a season low with seven points.

*Jackson had a game-high five turnovers, giving him 12 in his last two and 28 for the season. He had 42 all of last year.

*Until they hit their final two free throws and missed a final three-pointer, the Buckeyes were actually better from three (9 for 20, 45.0 percent) than they were from the line (6 for 14, 42.9 percent).

*Young had five first-half points and provided a spark but saw just one minute of second-half playing time.

Back

Clemson brought back a familiar face for Ohio State fans. Mark Donnal, a Whitehouse (Ohio) Anthony Wayne product who spent the last four seasons at Michigan, is playing for the Tigers as a graduate transfer.

He didn’t do much against the Buckeyes, though, not attempting a shot and committing three fouls and one turnover with one steal in eight minutes off the bench.

Quotable

“I’ll watch the tape, but I never felt like we had (juice), particularly in the areas where you need effort to be effective: defensively, on the glass, deflections, I didn’t think we ever had that. That’s a complete reflection on effort and energy level. I need to look at how we’re going to manage this next week here and again, I’ll look back and say hey, do I need to play guys a little less minutes just to keep us fresher through this stretch? If I do, I need to figure out what direction are we going?” – Holtmann

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ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy

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