Once all the realities of the situation were laid out, a simple question was posed to Ohio State men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann on Friday afternoon.
First, the important details. Leading scorer Kaleb Wesson will miss his third game Sunday because of a suspension for an unspecified violation of athletic department policy. Second-leading scorer C.J. Jackson is dealing with shoulder and ankle injuries and is bogged down in the most prolonged slump of his career since moving into the starting lineup.
For good measure, toss in leg and ankle injuries to occasional starter and significant rotation player Kyle Young and a level of fatigue sapping energy from Andre Wesson and Luther Muhammad after both have played more minutes than expected, and the question was formulated:
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“You remain as optimistic and positive and forward-thinking as possible, because I don’t know if there’s another option,” Holtmann said, after first jokingly asking for a drink. “All those factors right now, we’re sitting at 18 wins with a chance, just a chance, to put ourselves in better position. At the beginning of the season, we would’ve said, we embrace being in that position.”
Heading into a regular-season finale against a Wisconsin team allowing a league-low 59.9 points per Big Ten game, Ohio State has scored 51 and 50 points in games without Kaleb Wesson. Three times this season, the Buckeyes have failed to score more than 50 points, their highest such total since they had four during the 2008-09 season.
That team finished the regular season 20-9 overall and 10-8 in the Big Ten and eventually earned a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament, finishing with an average of 66.8 points per game.
At 69.4 points, this season’s scoring average is Ohio State’s lowest since then. Aside from a 90-point outburst against Iowa on Feb. 26, the Buckeyes haven’t scored more than 63 points in seven of their past eight games.
Young’s injury, and then Jackson’s, have led Holtmann to significantly shuffle his lineup. The suspension to Wesson, around whom much of the offseason planning was focused, threw the plans out the window. Case in point: Ohio State played much of the second half at Northwestern with four guards and either Young or Andre Wesson as the de facto center.
“It’s hard to change your offensive identity in the last week and a half of the season,” Holtmann said. “We’ve tried to tweak some things and change some things knowing that he’s going to come back, but that’s what’s facing us right now.”
After the Northwestern loss, graduate transfer Keyshawn Woods expressed his belief that the Buckeyes could still take advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead on the schedule. Friday, Jackson echoed that.
“The confidence comes from within and as teammates we have to uplift each other in those times where it might be a little rough,” he said.