I’m not sure the last time I’ve been more relieved to hear a coach echo my thoughts about a game in his opening statement.
Tonight, Ohio State beat the Citadel 94-65 in a game that somewhat resembled basketball. The Bulldogs play a unique system, one that sees them get off shots as soon as possible in an effort to just blindly outscore their opponent.
Not surprisingly, it doesn’t work very well against above-average teams. The stats coming in were pretty shocking: Division I teams were averaging 97.6 points per game against the Citadel, and nobody had scored less than 72. Three teams had reached 100, with Virginia Tech’s 132 the season high.
The Buckeyes would have become the fourth if they hadn’t missed their final six shots during the last 2:45. All of them were three-point attempts by walk-ons, which dipped Ohio State’s three-point shooting percentage to 37.1 (13 for 35). Take those six away, and the Buckeyes finish at 44.8 percent.
So when Chris Holtmann said he wasn’t sure there was much to take out of this game, I wholeheartedly agreed. Ohio State attempted a season-high 74 field goals, handed out 27 assists for its highest total since totaling 30 against VMI on Nov. 23, 2011 and only playing leading scorers Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate for 18 minutes each.
Those 30 assists came against a VMI team that, like this Citadel team, was coached by Duggar Baucom.
“We’re not usually that bad offensively, but I give all the credit to Ohio State,” Baucom said. “They didn’t allow us to do a lot of the thing that we normally do. Chris had those guys ready to play. There was no looking forward to North Carolina, and that’s credit to him and his staff.”
The Buckeyes did get Micah Potter back in a big way. After his high-ankle sprain suffered during the fourth game of the season limited him to four appearances totaling 14 minutes during the last eight games, Potter totaled 19 minutes and pulled down a season-high eight rebounds against the Citadel.
“He’s clearly rusty,” Holtmann said. “I think that’s obvious, but that’s to be expected. It’s more than I probably would want (to play him). He needed to play tonight, but he’s got to shake off some rust and get back into a rhythm and that might take a few more weeks.
“Injuries are a difficult thing, but we understand in sports it’s no one’s fault. It’s not his fault that he got injured, but he’s got to earn his minutes back. The way you do that is you come in and you impact winning. That’s true for anybody who gets injured.”
With the continued convalescence of Kyle Young, who missed one game with an ankle sprain, the Buckeyes are back to full strength.
“It’s huge,” graduate transfer Andrew Dakich said. “Obviously North Carolina (Saturday’s opponent) is very talented, has a lot of length and size and we need those guys. Micah started out the year starting and playing very well for us and he’s been limited just because of his ankle. He’s huge for us. I think you’ve seen Kyle Young have a lot of spurts, especially that Michigan game where he came out and that was huge for us. Those two back on the floor, tomorrow’s a day off and just keep resting that ankle and get back to full strength.”
The flip side to that is that, with such a decisive win, Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate, Ohio State’s two leading scorers, didn’t have to play much. They were limited to 18 minutes each, and Bates-Diop still scored 17 points to tie for the game-high.
“Keita had played 38 the other night,” Holtmann said. “JT, I’m in the middle with him because he needs to play some because he can get out of shape pretty quickly – not in the kind of game shape we need pretty quickly. We need to have a good practice on Thursday with pace. Keita, yeah, 38 minutes the other night was probably a little much but I felt like that’s what we needed at the time. Both those guys have been logging a lot so to be able to give them a little bit of a rest was good.”
There was one area that Holtmann was clearly displeased with. The Citadel grabbed 11 first-half offensive rebounds and finished with 17, the most allowed by the Buckeyes all year.
“That was … not good,” Holtmann said. “That was us getting beat to balls, that was us getting bum-rushed and not being physical enough and not pursuing balls with two hands. I’ve got to coach that better and we’ve got to get better at that. That was not good enough. They missed a lot of shots in the first half but we were really on the defensive glass not where we needed to be, and that’s disappointing.”
Holtmann said that’s something that they’ve sensed at times in practice.
“I thought there was a lot of things off the rim, bounces off the rim that were kind of just falling into their lap,” Dakich said. “We were talking about, we huddled each other up saying we had to block out harder because they were crashing four guys and you normally only see three guys crash. They were crashing the whole time, and credit to them they strong-willed us and got the offensive rebounds.”
Holtmann continues to make good on his promise to tinker with his starting lineup all season long. Today, he replaced fifth-year senior Kam Williams with freshman Musa Jallow, a swap he’s made a few times this year. Jallow, who has struggled recently, played 25 minutes and finished with three points, three assists, one rebound, one steal and two turnovers in 25 minutes.
It was his most action since he played 28 minutes at Wisconsin on Dec. 4.
“I just felt like, Kam is in a great rhythm offensively but I’m searching for some defensive consistency out of that position,” Holtmann said. “Kam is in a great rhythm offensively right now but that was my thinking. Musa’s got to improve in some areas on the offensive end. We’re searching a little bit for that position.”
Williams tied Bates-Diop with 17 points on 7-of-13 shooting.
“We’ll play those guys together some for sure, but I think what we as coaches have to continue to push is to get Kam to improve in those areas we’re asking him to improve in and have great attention to detail and be focused and committed and play with toughness on that end,” Holtmann said, “and get Musa to understand offensively what we need from him. As they do that, they’re both going to play a really important role.”
“Obviously we already have two Big Ten wins and that changes a lot. It puts less pressure on us. This year we’re just going out and playing. All five guys seem to be connected on offense and defense and last year, we had a lot of lulls. This year I feel like our lulls aren’t as drastic, they aren’t as bad. We’re figuring out ways to keep fighting if we get down. Learning from experience how to avoid those hole-digging plays or those losing plays. I feel like a lot of us have matured.” – Williams, on how this year’s 10-3 start feels different than last year’s identical record.