There’s nothing quite like having to dodge opposing fans as you’re trying to get to the locker room to provide a dose of humility.
That’s where the No. 16 Ohio State men’s basketball team found itself Wednesday night at the Rutgers Athletic Center, where fans of the Scarlet Knights made their orderly way to the floor to celebrate a 64-61 upset of the Buckeyes. It snapped a 23-game program losing streak against ranked teams and handed Ohio State its worst loss under second-year coach Chris Holtmann.
It dropped the Buckeyes to 2-2 in the Big Ten, handing them a second consecutive loss in the process.
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“I think the biggest thing we learned was we’ve got to compete for 40 minutes every time we step out on the court,” junior forward Andre Wesson said Friday afternoon as the Buckeyes prepared to head to Iowa for a Saturday afternoon game. “Sometimes we take these lapses in the game where we’re just not competing and not playing hard enough and that’s something we can’t do. Obviously when they made their runs and all the offensive boards and hustle plays they got, it hurt us.”
There were several of those, but the final one came when Rutgers scored the final six points to flip the result and score the upset.
“Competing for 40 minutes is something we’ve definitely got to get better at,” freshman Duane Washington Jr. said. “We talked about it as a team and individuals as well. That’s something that shouldn’t be taught at this time of the season. You’re supposed to compete for 40 minutes. That’s what you’re supposed to go out there and do. We didn’t do a good job with that Wednesday. You’ve got to move on. We’re excited. We’re going to have a good practice today.”
The Buckeyes haven’t been immune to lapses throughout the season. Teams such as Bucknell, Youngstown State and Illinois have put significant runs on them, but Ohio State still emerged victorious. Against Michigan State last Saturday and at Rutgers four days later, the outcome was different.
It doesn’t necessarily add up to a team befitting of a lofty national ranking, but Holtmann has disputed that ranking with every opportunity he’s been afforded. It’s not too difficult to see why.
“I don’t know that there’s been a major difference than maybe the competition and smaller margin for error,” he said when asked why recent lapses have turned into losses. “That’s been the difference. You just tend to get exposed if you have lapses throughout the game against quality competition, whether it’s home or on the road. In some cases we were able to get away with it.
“People might have thought it was coach-speak but it was stuff I really felt at the time. We really have a great group that I believe wants to continue to grow and improve and knows it’s a long season.”
As is common after a resume-damaging loss, questions about role changes and lineup shakeups have littered the Ohio State landscape on social media since Wednesday.
On Friday, Holtmann cautioned against a rush to judgement based on small in-game sample sizes.
“We might look at a couple different things,” he said when asked about tweaks to the lineup or rotation. “The tweaks and changes are going to be really centered about us hopefully growing and improving. We see 50-plus practices. Your fans and others only see a snapshot of games, so that’s really the information we try to go off of when we try to make improvements in growth: the games, but also the daily practices.”
He was specifically asked about freshman Jaedon LeDee, who played four minutes in the game. For the season, LeDee is averaging 3.4 points in 6.2 minutes per game but scored 16 of his 44 points in the home win against Purdue Fort Wayne in the second game of the season.
“He’s growing and getting better,” Holtmann said. “We see him every day in practice, which is different than what everyone else sees in snippets of the game. As all of our freshmen, he’s got to keep growing and getting better and be ready for when his opportunity is there.”
Senior guard C.J. Jackson’s battles with an ongoing cramping issue in his legs have been well documented. Most recently, they sidelined him for much of the second half of last Saturday’s home loss to Michigan State after what had been a stellar first-half performance.
After that game, the plan was to meet again with the medical staff and try to get on top of the situation to prevent future maladies. When the Buckeyes went to Rutgers on Wednesday night, Jackson played 35 minutes with no issues. He was 4 of 13 from the field and 2 of 9 from three-point range, missing an open, game-tying attempt in the final seconds of a three-point upset loss to the Scarlet Knights.
Holtmann said the plan for preventing further situations remains the same and that nothing was drastically different in preparing for Rutgers.
“I think they just stayed on top of it, as our medical staff always does,” he said. “He’s (C.J.) got a responsibility with that, too, so there’s nothing different.”
After missing the Rutgers game due to an illness, freshman forward Justin Ahrens is back to health and Holtmann said he would make the trip to Iowa City with the Buckeyes.
Ahrens came down with the illness late Monday night, Holtmann said Tuesday, and the decision was made to keep him home. It meant missing out on a road environment, which was one key reason Ahrens said they collectively decided not to redshirt him this season, but Holtmann said the situation demanded it.
“Part of the reason we left him at home, I really wanted to take him, but as soon as I heard he was going to have to wear a mask on the plane and be quarantined to a separate room, all that, because of the fear of it spreading, I was like,’ It’s probably best to just keep him at home,” Holtmann said. “He’s healthy (now). We expect him to be available. It was a 24-hour deal that took it out of him pretty good.”
Ahrens has played in eight of Ohio State’s 15 games and scored eight points in 39 total minutes of playing time.