When C.J. Jackson was removed from the starting lineup, it presented two options. Either Ohio State basketball coach Chris Holtmann was trying to send a message to his turnover-prone junior point guard, or he was looking for a spark by bringing him off the bench.
Two games into the change, Holtmann left no room for uncertainty regarding his reasoning.
“No, I’m trying to send a message,” he said.
That message was simple: value the basketball more. Through eight games, Jackson was second on the team in scoring at 13.1 points per game but had committed a team-high 28 turnovers. In half of his games, Jackson had as many or more turnovers than assists and had turned it over 12 times with five assists in his previous two games. Those were losses to Butler and Clemson, games in which the Buckeyes couldn’t hold on to double-digit leads in the second half.
Ohio State responded with two impressive wins to open Big Ten play. Jackson played an average of three minutes fewer in coming off the bench, but his scoring has remained constant (13.5 points in the two games). Most important, he turned the ball over only three times.
So, what message did Jackson receive from Holtmann?
“Pretty much just try to be more poised, control the team a little bit better,” Jackson said. “That’s pretty much the message he wanted to send. Be able to run the team on and off the court, and he felt like I needed to do a better job of that and he was right. I’ve tried to do the best I can with that these last two games.”
Holtmann is known for being particularly tough on his point guards, and Jackson said the coach has spent more time with him and his position group than others on the roster. His efforts to get more from Jackson haven’t just been about what happens on the court, though.
The Buckeyes need Jackson to continue to assume more of a leadership role, something that hasn’t always come easy for the soft-spoken Charlotte, North Carolina, native, who spent a year at Eastern Florida State Community College before signing with the Buckeyes during the summer of 2016.
It has been a transition that Jackson often said he didn’t necessarily see coming.
“I knew I could play at this level and that’s why I came here, but for everything to happen so fast, no, I didn’t plan for it to be like this,” he said. “Based on last year, I wouldn’t have guessed I’d be in this role.”
Regardless of whether Jackson is a starter or reserve, Holtmann is looking for continual improvement.
“I think he knows that his minutes will be pretty consistent as long as he can continue to try to do what we’re asking him to do in terms of limiting his turnovers,” the coach said.