COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Regardless of recruiting ranking, this probably wasn’t the ideal scenario for a freshman to make his first start.
When junior CJ Walker came down Monday with flu-like symptoms, it prompted Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann to turn the reins over — at least temporarily — to former five-star recruit D.J. Carton for a game Tuesday night at Maryland. It didn’t help the Buckeyes avoid a third consecutive loss, 67-55 to the Terrapins, but it did provide a few second-half flashes of what might help get them pointed back in a positive direction.
On a pair of possessions after halftime, Carton was able to attack seams in the Maryland defense, get to the rim and finish. He had 14 points, split evenly between the two halves, and showed Holtmann a few positive signs along the way.
"I thought he did some great things tonight, particularly after that first stint," the coach said. "He came back in and was aggressive and ran the team well in a game like this."
Carton subbed out of the game after 3:44 and was replaced by sophomore Justin Ahrens with Ohio State leading 6-0. He returned with 10:35 left and the lead trimmed to 11-9. He finished with 14 points on 6-of-15 shooting, playing 29:10. Walker had three points on 1-of-6 shooting in 25:14.
"It was good, a little different energy feel," Carton said. "I was hoping to bring some energy at the start and I’ve got to do a better job of that and be a better leader. I’ve got a lot of stuff to work on and I’m going to keep attacking in practice every day."
It doesn’t sound like the move will stick. Holtmann said he likes Carton seeing the game a little bit before checking in, and the freshman said he doesn’t care.
"A start, it doesn’t really matter to me," Carton said. "I don’t care if I start or come off the bench. I just want to win basketball games."
Holtmann also inadvertently gave the freshman a vote of support. Moments into the second half, Ohio State was within 33-29 when Carton was called for a questionable foul at the offense end. Seconds later, Holtmann picked up his first technical foul of the season while arguing on behalf of his freshman — or at least, that’s what it looked like.
"I did not mean to get the technical," Holtmann said. "I don’t know exactly what I did to get the technical. I was in the box and my language was pretty G-rated, so whatever. That’s the decision they made."
Carton, too, said he didn’t consider the possibility that his coach had picked up the technical to stand up for him. He appreciated the sentiment, though.
"I know Coach is going to fight for me, whether it’s a foul call or anything like that," he said. "Knowing he has your back helps give you confidence and helps you play smoother and more freely. That definitely helps on the offensive end."
Shooting slump continues
Ohio State might have had a chance to pull off the win if not for another tough shooting night. The Buckeyes went 21 of 67 (31.3%) from the field and were just 5 of 27 (18.5%) from three-point range. A team that weeks ago seemed to have multiple shooting options is now looking for someone — anyone — to consistently make shots.
Sophomore Luther Muhammad went 0 of 6 from three-point range and is now 2 for his last 18 attempts during his last four games.
Classmate Duane Washington Jr. was 0 of 5 and is now 7 of 26 during his last four games, a streak that immediately followed a two-game absence due to an injury to the cartilage around one of his ribs.
"I don’t think he’d point to the rib at all (as an excuse)," Holtmann said. "He’s a better shooter and better offensive player than he’s performing. As coaches, we’ve got to get him playing better offensively than he is, and a lot of that’s just going to come from hard work. He is struggling. He and Luther obviously struggled tonight."
Walker, meanwhile, was 0 of 4 from three-point range.
"The quality of shot is the biggest thing we’ve got to continue to evaluate," Holtmann said when evaluating those three. "I do think Luther, he had six (attempts), four or five of them were really good ones. A couple were deep ones and because he uses his legs were a little bit difficult for him. The biggest thing is quality of shot. If they’re getting good shots I’m confident they’ll go in; they’re just in a rough stretch right now."
For as bad as the three-point shooting effort was, it wasn’t long ago that Ohio State had been worse. With Kaleb Wesson suspended and the offense mired in the muck, the Buckeyes went 4 of 26 (15.4%) in an ugly 68-50 loss at Northwestern on March 6 last season.
Still no Young
In addition to Walker’s illness, the Buckeyes played their second game without junior forward Kyle Young, who remains out after undergoing an appendectomy Dec. 29.
Holtmann described him as "day-to-day" Monday and didn’t entirely rule him out for the Maryland game. After the loss, he said Young is getting closer to action and had lobbied to play in this game.
"He wanted to go and I just would not let him," Holtmann said. "Our medical staff felt the same way. I just did not think it was in his best interest, but he did want to go and communicated that to me early in shootaround."
Young has not been a featured player against the Terrapins. In three prior games against them, he is 4 for 5 from the floor and has nine points in 11.7 minutes per game.
"Kyle certainly would’ve made a difference in a game like this, but it’s tough to tell what kind of difference he would’ve made," Holtmann said. "It’s not like he’s a guy we go to for offense, but he generates offense playing off of other guys. Certainly, we miss his activity, his defense, his ability to get us extra possessions. There’s no question. I did feel like the other night, the physicality in the Wisconsin game, it would’ve been a noticeable difference with him."
"I thought we were really connected tonight. I thought we were a really connected group. That’s one thing I just did (feel). Now, we didn’t play as well as we needed to, but I was really pleased with that." — Holtmann