After giving a head fake, CJ Walker put the ball on the court and drove around Wisconsin’s Tyler Wahl and headed toward the basket.
Ohio State had just taken a timeout after Wisconsin reclaimed a 52-51 lead on Friday night at Value City Arena, and the Buckeyes were looking to answer as the left-handed Walker put the ball in his right hand and got into the lane. There, he made contact with 6-foot-11 Badgers center Nate Reuvers and went up with a one-footed, running shot attempt.
It didn’t fall. Reuvers got the rebound, and the Badgers would pull away for the 61-57 upset.
“I feel like it was a good play,” Walker said Monday. “I feel like I had the gap to be able to drive. I just had to finish through the contact. I should’ve gone off of two feet instead of one.
“I’ve got to be able to finish off plays like that, finish off two, finish through contact. I’ve got to be able to make that play the next time.”
Walker said he re-watched that play several times to better learn from it. It wasn’t one that would have won the game itself, but it’s one of many late-game examples that have conspired to hand the Buckeyes consecutive losses entering Tuesday’s road game at 12th-ranked Maryland.
And it came from a position group that coach Chris Holtmann has pointed out is, to a man, being asked to shoulder new responsibilities in crucial situations. During the final moments of Ohio State games toward the end of last season, the Buckeyes knew to play through guard Keyshawn Woods and center Kaleb Wesson.
Walker was sitting out after transferring into the program. Luther Muhammad and Duane Washington Jr., now sophomores, were watching from the bench. D.J. Carton was still in his senior season of high school.
After handling all but one of their first 12 games with relative ease, some combination of those four has been on the court in what will be a frequently occurring situation going forward: closing out close games in the final minutes.
Holtmann said it’s been a work in progress.
“We’re trying to do some things in practice where we’re trying to put them in some of those situations late in games and coach them through making some of the right reads and some of the right plays,” he said. “There is an experience element to it, but as coaches we’ve got to get them as much experience as we can with those situations because they’re going to come up for sure.”
The Buckeyes could add an experienced frontcourt piece as soon as Tuesday night in junior forward Kyle Young. After undergoing an appendectomy on Dec. 29, Young missed the Wisconsin game, but Holtmann said he wasn’t ready to offer a definitive update on his situation prior to Monday’s practice and did not rule him out against the Terrapins.
Whether Young returns or not, Walker said Ohio State’s backcourt will be better prepared for a close game.
“I feel like we got a false sense of reality with those games in the past, winning by so much,” he said. “We’ve got to adjust. We’re going to do that as guards. We’ll adjust and figure it out.”