The under-8 timeout arrived, and many of the announced 18,231 fans at Value City Arena started to stream for the exits.
It was senior day for Ohio State, but No. 21 Wisconsin had led by 23 points, saw that cut to 15 points and then responded with a 7-0 run to push it back to 22 points at 58-36, and the Buckeyes looked dead and buried.
As those who stuck around, and surely those who were listening in their cars in the vicinity of the arena, soon discovered, it was far from over. Out of the timeout, coach Chris Holtmann made two changes and went with the lineup of C.J. Jackson, Keyshawn Woods, Musa Jallow, Andre Wesson and Kyle Young. After having appeared in two games totaling 93 seconds of playing time, that lineup had been scoreless in a first-half shift that lasted 2:26.Join the conversation at Facebook.com/BuckeyeXtra and connect with us on Twitter @BuckeyeXtra
It was against this unlikely backdrop that the Buckeyes mounted a memorable comeback that ultimately forced overtime before coming up short in a 73-67 loss. Holtmann made one more substitution in regulation and it was forced upon him when Wesson fouled out with 5:36 to play.
That lineup had put together an 8-0 run in 90 seconds. Then Justin Ahrens replaced Wesson, bringing a lineup to the floor that had not appeared in a single game this season. It closed the game with a 19-5 run, tying the score at 63 and giving the Buckeyes a chance to win.
Throughout, Holtmann said his primary thought was simple: ride the hot hands.
“We just said we were going to roll with that group because we felt like they were defending well and playing well together,” he said Tuesday. “I thought our seniors there, particularly the last 10 minutes, were really playing like seniors in terms of being hungry. It was a pretty easy call. You worry a little bit about fatigue, but we’ve done that some this year where we’ve kept the lineup in. I think we did that against Creighton.”
At Creighton, a 69-60 win in the third game of the season, the Buckeyes went with the same lineup from 6:37 remaining until 1:52 was left, and from there Holtmann was subbing offense-defense by swapping freshmen Duane Washington Jr. and Luther Muhammad.
Holtmann said some players asked about subbing someone in late in overtime against the Badgers. With 12 seconds left and the deficit at 72-67, Washington replaced Woods and Muhammad replaced Young.
Jallow was a surprise catalyst for the lineup. After having played 31 total minutes in his prior five games, he played 31 against the Badgers and had a plus-11 rating.
“We had talked going into the game that we did not have a great matchup for (Khalil) Iverson,” Holtmann said. “We talked to (Musa) prior to the game about the importance he was going to be. We just didn’t have a great matchup for Iverson. And obviously Iverson had a good day, but we kind of challenged him with, we need you in this moment. I thought he did some good things on both ends.”
Iverson finished with 22 points and 14 rebounds and had a plus-10 rating. In the final 7:06, though, he was 0 of 1 from the field and had a turnover.
Young, too, was able to shoulder a heavier load than what his body has recently allowed. Dealing with the stress fracture to his lower right leg that is still healing and an unrelated sprained right ankle, he played 33 minutes and had six points and eight rebounds.
“I was pretty sore after the game, I can tell you that,” he said Tuesday. “But it was fun. Anytime the gym can get that loud, everyone was behind us, the fans got into it, you kind of lose yourself in those games. When you’re focused like that, it’s just fun. You’re doing what you love. It was a good run.”