CHICAGO — As Ohio State came down with basketball’s version of the flu — feeling great one minute; sick as a dog the next — the Buckeyes needed someone to keep them from throwing up all of their 20-point lead.
Enter Keyshawn Woods, who kept his cool even as OSU was fighting fevers all around him. He made the biggest basket of his career as the Buckeyes survived a late scare to defeat Indiana 79-75 on Thursday in the Big Ten tournament at the United Center.
“I’ve been around the block a few times when it comes to college basketball, and I try to bring poise to the team as much as possible,” said Woods, the 23-year-old graduate transfer whose clutch shot in the lane may have clinched an NCAA Tournament spot for the Buckeyes.Join the conversation at Facebook.com/BuckeyeXtra and connect with us on Twitter @BuckeyeXtra
As Ohio State watched a 63-43 lead at 7:30 become a three-point “uh-oh” with 55 seconds left, coach Chris Holtmann turned to his oldest player, knowing such moments are best managed by the mature.
“In those situations, when it feels like the whole world is caving in, just make one play,” said Holtmann, explaining what he told his players as Indiana made OSU queasy. “We had talked about who to run that (play) for, and Keyshawn was rolling at such a high level that we felt he would be the guy to run it for.”
Woods drove the lane, hoping to draw a foul, but when 270-pound Kaleb Wesson sealed the area, he went strong to the hoop.
“I just wanted to make sure to get downhill, because we were in the bonus,” said Woods, whose 18 points were one off his season high. “K set two good screens for me and I tried to draw the foul. I didn’t get it but at least kept my attention enough to finish the play.’”
Ohio State (19-13) still was not in the clear — the Hoosiers (17-15) would cut their deficit to 77-75 with six seconds left — but Woods’ basket was the antidote that helped save the day, and likely the season.
“I definitely wanted to play Friday,” Woods said, referencing the Buckeyes’ game against Michigan State. “It was important to me and important to us as a team.”
Holtmann had been looking for Woods and point guard C.J. Jackson, who iced Thursday’s win with two free throws with three seconds left, to play with the passion and focus expected from seniors and grad transfers.
“It’s everything for our team,” Holtmann said of his upperclassmen showing the intensity he wants. “In light of not having Kaleb, we wanted to see that more. I thought we had it against Wisconsin (on Sunday), particularly the last 15 minutes. There’s a look you get and it’s, ‘Hey, I want to keep playing for a while.’ Keyshawn has not played in a lot of NCAA Tournaments and neither has C.J. for that matter.”
Woods figures the Buckeyes are a lock for an NCAA bid if they defeat the Spartans on Friday.
“I hope we’re (already) in. If we win (Friday) we’re definitely in,” he said. “If we just keep it going, keep bringing the same effort we had tonight into tomorrow, we’ll be good.”