BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Ohio State was midway through the first half of Saturday’s game against Indiana when Kyle Young picked up his second foul.
That the junior forward was even on the court was noteworthy. It was his first game since undergoing an appendectomy Dec. 29, one that cost him two games that the Buckeyes lost. It was a needed emotional lift for Ohio State, so when Young picked up his second foul it wasn’t a surprise to see coach Chris Holtmann turn to the bench and gesture for an immediate substitute.
There was 10:01 remaining in the half, and Jerome Hunter was going to the line with Indiana leading 22-16. But it wasn’t Young that Holtmann was yanking from the game — it was sophomore guard Duane Washington Jr., the defender who had allowed Hunter a clear path to the lane that forced a foul from Young.
There, with 10:01 to play, Washington sat on the bench. And there he remained for the remainder of the half, nothing more than a bystander as the Buckeyes dusted themselves off the mat and took a 34-31 lead into the break.
Lesson perhaps learned, Washington opened the second half on the court with the rest of the starters. On the third defensive possession, Washington was again the culprit when Rob Phinisee found himself open for a jumper along the left wing that gave the Hoosiers a 35-34 lead.
At the next timeout, which came with 17:26 to play and the score the same, Washington was taken out of the lineup. He did not play again, finishing with two points on a pair of foul shots while not attempting a field goal in 8:02 of playing time.
“Coach’s decision,” Holtmann said.
The message was clear, and it backed up the rhetoric Holtmann has been preaching during a losing streak that has reached four games and derailed all positive momentum the Buckeyes had built up for two months. Namely, Holtmann said that if players couldn’t follow some of the specific instructions and things being asked of them in games, they would learn that they couldn’t be on the court.
So even with offense again at a premium for the Buckeyes, it kept Washington firmly planted on the bench. He had a front-row view of a second half during which Ohio State missed 22 of its 28 shots and scored only 20 points on the way to a 66-54 loss to the Hoosiers.
It brought a conundrum facing this entire team to the forefront. Classmate Luther Muhammad, who remains in a shooting slump and finished with three points on 1-of-6 shooting, played 18:24 off the bench and would have been on the court more if not for foul trouble. He fouled out with 6:29 to play, and although Washington was the logical replacement Holtmann went with freshman forward E.J. Liddell instead.
The message was loud and clear: Although the offense remains in search of answers in a big way, a lack of attention at the defensive end won’t be tolerated.
Senior forward Andre Wesson, who scored 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting, said players know what is expected of them from Holtmann if they want to stay on the court.
“That’s something he’s been preaching since he got here is defense,” Wesson said. “If you’re not going to defend, you can’t play. I think Duane handled it well. He knew what he had to do and he knew where he messed up, but he’ll respond. I know Duane and he’ll definitely respond.”
The Buckeyes need him to in a big way. Washington entered the game second on the team at 11.4 points per game while shooting a team-best 43.9 percent from three-point range. Those numbers have been tempered a bit, too, since he missed two games because of an injury to the cartilage around one of his ribs and lost the rhythm he had been in.
In his five games since, Washington is 7 of 25 (28.0%) from three-point range and averaging 9.0 points. Not surprisingly, Ohio State’s offensive swoon has coincided with Washington’s as teams have pressured the team’s other shooters and schemed to keep Kaleb Wesson from doing much in the interior.
In 49 career games, this is the first time Washington has not attempted at least one shot. He was not one of the two players made available after the loss, and Holtmann didn’t offer much in the way of how he thought the sophomore handled the situation.
“I was watching the game, so I didn’t really (check),” he said.”
By the numbers
It’s not all on Washington, obviously. As a team, here is what Ohio State is shooting during this four-game losing streak.
Overall: 72 of 214 (33.6%)
From three-point range: 28 of 97 (28.9%)
From free throw line: 53 of 75 (70.7%)
The Buckeyes have averaged 56.3 points in those four games.
They have had one half with 25 points or fewer in each of those four games.
He didn’t look exactly like himself, but Young started and played 22:54. He finished with three rebounds, one point, one turnover and four fouls.
“Just looked a little rusty, but it was great of him to come back in two weeks,” Holtmann said. “It’s pretty impressive. Just looked a little rusty out there.”
Freshman D.J. Carton played 28:31 off the bench, more than junior starter CJ Walker, but he finished with seven of Ohio State’s 16 turnovers.
It’s a new season high for Carton, who had 10 points on 3-of-9 shooting and three assists. At times, he was clearly trying to force the issue to make a play for his team only to dribble into bad spots and turn the ball over. Twice, a shot attempt was blocked.
Holtmann stuck with him, though, with the hopes the lessons learned will pay off later.
“Lot of film,” Holtmann said when asked how the coaches work through that with him. “We’ve went through that, really, since the beginning of practice. Sometimes guys have to learn unfortunately through game action and through difficult things. I’m confident he’ll learn from these experiences, but that’s been the case throughout the year that he can get playing a little bit too fast. We’ve got to work with him with coaches. He’s got a great attitude. We’ll figure it out.”
Kaleb Wesson said he’s not worried about how the freshman will come back from the performance.
“That’s why we love D.J., because he responds to things like this,” he said. “When he has a game like this, we know he’s going to respond. He’s going to come out in practice and take care of the ball and he knows he’s a freshman and we know he’s going to make some mistakes but he also knows we’re going to need him in big time. We can’t afford him to turn the ball over like that, so we’re going to talk to him and he’s going to respond.”
“Sure, there’s some similarities. Young guys struggling through January, a little bit of injury issues. I’m sure there’s some similarities. I’ve not spent a whole lot of time looking at the two.” — Holtmann, when asked if this four-game losing streak felt like déjà vu after a five-game losing streak last season