Ohio State needed an edge anywhere it could find one.
Mired in a four-game losing streak, the No. 21 Buckeyes were preparing to play Nebraska on Tuesday night at Value City Arena without two key members of their rotation. Having decided to suspend sophomore guards Luther Muhammad and Duane Washington Jr. for at least one game for failing to meet program standards and expectations, coach Chris Holtmann turned to his closet for some kind of talisman.
He emerged with his salmon sport coat, the one he’s worn exclusively in throwback games at St. John Arena.
“This was my rally coat,” Holtmann said. “I went in there this morning and said (to my wife), ‘Lori, I think I’ve gotta wear the coat.’ ”
The hope was that it would send a message, subtle as it was, for his players to embrace the joy of the game and play bolder and more freely than they had recently. It wasn’t a perfect performance, but the Buckeyes took control early, led by as many as 25 points and cruised to an 80-68 win against the Cornhuskers in front of 12,954 fans.
Six Ohio State players scored in double figures, led by CJ Walker’s season-high 18 points.
“It feels good to be back on the winning side, being able to make those runs we haven’t been able to make the last couple games,” Walker said. “It just feels really good to be back on top.”
The suspensions of Muhammad and Washington are open-ended and at Holtmann’s discretion. Neither player was on the bench for the game, and the status of each for a game Saturday at Penn State is to be determined. Both watched the game from the locker room, Holtmann said.
“I don’t know that there’s a specific message (for them),” Holtmann said. “I’m not coaching for just one game. (Their status) will be a day-to-day thing that we’ll evaluate day to day.”
The Buckeyes (12-5, 2-4 Big Ten) started their only two available scholarship guards — freshman D.J. Carton and Walker — and took control with an early outburst from senior Andre Wesson. After making a three-pointer at 16:40 of the first half to put the Buckeyes on the board, Wesson made two more rapid-fire threes to give him nine points in 49 seconds.
His personal 9-0 run gave Ohio State a four-point lead with 15:51 to play, and the Buckeyes would not trail the Cornhuskers (7-10, 2-4) again.
“Sniper,” said smiling brother Kaleb Wesson, who had his seventh double-double of the season with 13 points and 14 rebounds. “He’s a sniper. And you know what snipers do? They shoot from long range. They hit. That’s what he does.”
Carton and Walker combined for 31 points on 11-of-24 shooting and had nine assists with six turnovers. The Buckeyes shot 54.5% from the field after connecting on 33.6% of their shots during the losing streak.
For that, Holtmann credited improved ball movement and cutting away from the ball. Give the suit coat a little credit, too.
“I did, in some ways I wanted our guys to play bold and free,” he said. “And listen, for a guy that dresses pretty conservatively, this is as bold and free as I get.”