Making the NCAA Tournament has historically not been a birthright for Ohio State men’s basketball.

Sunday night, after making it for a second straight year, coach Chris Holtmann opened his press conference with a reminder of that fact.

“Really excited about this opportunity and this challenge in front of us,” he said to begin his opening statement. “When you do this, you certainly understand it’s not an entitlement, getting to the NCAA Tournament. It’s something that has got to be earned, and it’s hard to earn those and it’s hard to consistently earn those.”

Then, as case in point, he rattled off how many appearances the Buckeyes have made by decade: four in the 1960s, one in the 70s, five in the 80s, four in the 90s (including the vacated 1999 Final Four that the university is prohibited from recognizing), seven from 2000-10 (including appearances in 2000, 2001 and 2002 that were vacated) and now seven in the last nine years.

It took fewer than 90 seconds before he credited predecessor Thad Matta for getting the ball rolling and making a program-record seven straight appearances from 2009-2015.

“When you think about how hard it is to consistently, a program that has had the number of really good coaches that we’ve had and number of really good coaches we had, until that 09-15 stretch we had never been more than three straight years, it’s a reality check on how hard this is to consistently get there,” he said. “Obviously we want to be there as long as we can. We know we’ve got work to do, but to go here is a real credit to our players.”

In particular, Holtmann cited seniors C.J. Jackson and Joey Lane, graduate transfer Keyshawn Woods and junior Andre Wesson – and expressed displeasure at the criticism they have often heard this season.

“I think in so many ways (this is) a credit to C.J., Keyshawn, Joey Lane, Andre Wesson, those upperclassmen who have steered the ship and allowed us to be here,” he said. “Those guys deserve a lot of credit. I bristle when I hear that those guys are constantly getting criticized, but they deserve to enjoy this moment.”

Sunday night, Jackson and Woods – the two players who met with the media – said they were doing just that.

“All season long we’ve been leaning on each other,” Jackson said. “This year had its ups and downs, and to see our name up there was a bit of a sigh of relief but we’re excited for the new opportunity.”

Added Woods: “It was a great feeling. It was the whole reason I chose to be a Buckeye, the belief I had in the guys.”

Noteworthy

*According to KenPom.com, Iowa State is the favorite to win the Friday game, which will be the late game on TBS and tip at the conclusion of the Houston-Georgia State game.

*Holtmann said the Buckeyes were in practice today when Michigan State’s Kyle Ahrens, older brother of Ohio State freshman Justin, went down with a scary-looking leg injury.

“He’s good,” Holtmann said of Justin. “We told him right after practice. We were in practice and Scoonie (Penn) and someone else came and told me that his brother had went down, so we obviously waited until the end of practice and said he’s OK, looks like X-rays (say) he’s going to be OK. Yeah, he was concerned.”

Beat the beat writer – again!

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ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy