BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – As it often has during this season, Ohio State’s offense bogged down Sunday afternoon at Assembly Hall. Then it did it again. And two more times.
It still wasn’t enough to stop the Buckeyes from a third straight win against a freefalling Indiana team. In a 55-52 win, Ohio State overcame four scoreless stretches ranging from 2:49 to 4:50 that, in total, accounted for 38.2 percent of the game.
And yet, the Buckeyes still found a way to grind one out. To have such an achievement, coach Chris Holtmann said the groundwork had to be laid long ago.
“I think you’re trying to work on that from day one, really, with your group, because I don’t know if that’s something you can just turn on in the middle of February, this idea of playing to the next play and stay with it,” he said. “You get so frustrated, but it’s a fast game and if you let that get the best of you then you have no chance.
“I thought we played smarter than what we have at times, but that’s really an approach we try to work on from day one. You need guys who have been through it a little bit to have an understanding of that.”
By this point in the season, this Ohio State team that heavily relies on freshmen and sophomores seems to be grasping that. It doesn’t mean it’s always a pretty sight, though.
The first dry spell came with the Buckeyes leading 16-10 after Keyshawn Woods hit a tough jumper right at the three-point line with 9:36 to play. Ohio State wouldn’t score again until Kaleb Wesson’s left-handed hook shot with 4:46 left in the half. During that stretch, the Buckeyes missed six shots and committed two turnovers but Indiana didn’t fare much better, scoring just four points to pull within two at 16-14.
Then, ahead 23-17 after C.J. Jackson scored in the paint with 2:49 left in the half, the Buckeyes didn’t score again before the break while missing their final five shots and committing one turnover. They still led 23-21 as again Indiana scored only four points.
The second half brought more of the same. Duane Washington Jr. buried a three-pointer off an inbounds play with 11:49 remaining in the game to give Ohio State a 42-34 lead, but it wouldn’t score again until Andre Wesson’s basket in the paint with 7:29 left. During that 4:20 spell, the Buckeyes missed five shots and turned the ball over once.
Yet, they still led, 44-38, as Indiana (again) scored four points during the spell.
The final drought helped set up the late-game drama. Andre Wesson drilled a three-pointer to push the lead back to a game-high nine points at 47-38 with 6:27 left, but Ohio State’s next points would not come until the junior scored in the paint with 3:09 to play, breaking what was a 47-all tie. This time, the Hoosiers had put together a run thanks to three straight three-pointers, but it wasn’t more than that even though Ohio State missed three field goals and committed two turnovers in 3:18.
None of it was enough to sink the Buckeyes. Six of their 15 turnovers (40.0 percent) came during this 38.2 percent of the game.
“They’re a pretty good defensive team, so we knew it was going to be tough” Andre Wesson said. “We just had to stay with it and grind through.”
When he was introduced as one of Ohio State’s starters, Musa Jallow received some significant boos from the Indiana faithful. A sophomore, Jallow signed for the Buckeyes after not receiving a scholarship offer from newly hired coach Archie Miller.
Details matter little to Hoosiers fans, who historically boo any Indiana natives who end up playing elsewhere regardless of the circumstances. Jallow got the last laugh, though, logging 20:23 and pulling down a team-high six rebounds while posting a game-best plus-11 plus/minus rating.
He also had a hand in helping force an Indiana turnover in the final minute with the score tied at 52.
Asked about Jallow’s defensive impact on the game, Holtmann said, “Outstanding. I thought it was one of the major keys to the game, was his defense and his rebounding. His defensive rebounding, I told the team after the game we don’t win without that.”
Holtmann is now 3-0 against the Hoosiers during his two seasons with the Buckeyes. Last year, Ohio State beat Indiana at Value City Arena, 71-56, and then came to Assembly Hall and spoiled Indiana’s senior day with an 80-78 double-overtime win.
That mark against the Hoosiers puts Holtmann in rare company. He is only the second Ohio State coach to open his career with at least two wins against the Hoosiers. The other eventually had an arena named after him.
That would be Lynn W. St. John, who won his first four games against the Hoosiers. The first was at home, 34-22, on Jan. 25, 1913, and the second was away, 19-17, on March 7, 1913.
On the other side, Miller follows in the footsteps of his predecessor, Tom Crean, in losing his first three games to the Buckeyes as Indiana’s coach. Crean, who took over a stripped-bare program from Kelvin Sampson, lost his first six games to the Buckeyes.
After having lost five straight and six of seven at one point, Ohio State is now on a three-game winning streak and has won four of its last five. The Buckeyes are back to .500 in Big Ten play, sitting at 6-6 overall and in sole possession of seventh place in the standings.
“It feels good, but we’ve got a lot of work to do,” senior guard C.J. Jackson said.
CJ Jackson has a great feel and pace to his game. @OhioStateHoops— Seth Greenberg (@SethOnHoops) February 10, 2019
The lone loss in the last five games came at Michigan, a game in which the Buckeyes nearly came to blows with the Wolverines with roughly eight minutes to play. Afterward, multiple players said they felt the incident would only draw them closer together. Woods, in particular, stressed this point.
The three-game winning streak has followed that point, although the three wins have all come against teams currently among the bottom five in the conference.
Asked if he thought that incident had brought his team closer together, Holtmann deferred to his players.
“You’ll have to ask them that,” he said. “When you live in the valley a little bit, you tend to appreciate the climb to the mountaintop a little bit. And I’m not saying we’re anywhere near the mountaintop, but I just think maybe it was that moment or just going through what we went through in that stretch that forces you to appreciate this journey we’re on and appreciate winning a game because that can get lost a little bit when you’re 12-1."
“I think he was really solid in a lot of ways tonight. Didn’t let the frustration of the game get to him in any way. Just kept playing. Made a real impact. I thought there’s things he can do better, but he had a good approach for the whole night.” – Holtmann, on Kaleb Wesson, who had 10 points and four rebounds in 30:16 and had three fouls.