The Ohio State men's basketball team took another curious turn Tuesday when sophomores Duane Washington Jr. and Luther Muhammad were suspended by coach Chris Holtmann for failure to meet program standards and expectations. The good news: Neither Washington nor Muhammad committed any turnovers against Nebraska. That is progress.
Ohio State, back in the friendly cavern that is Value City Arena, romped to an 80-68 victory over Nebraska (7-10, 2-4 Big Ten). It was a badly needed “W” for the Buckeyes (12-5, 2-4), who remain in danger of being inconsequential, within and without the conference and beyond. Their season, which once seemed a portent to glory, continues to hang in the balance.
These Buckeyes had one loss and were ranked No. 2 in the country on Dec. 29. (Gosh, it was only a few weeks ago — but it feels like a decade, eh?) Heading into the Nebraska game, they had lost four in a row and five of seven. Their offensive array had devolved into one-third made shots, one-third misses and one-third turnovers. That math isn't exactly right, but it rings true enough.
The Buckeyes were averaging about as many assists (14.1) as turnovers (13.9). This sort of ratio is what makes coaches want to spend more time with their families. Over their previous seven games, the Buckeyes averaged 12.4 assists to 16.4 turnovers, which took Holtmann to an even darker place.
Perhaps, then, the suspensions of Washington and Muhammad is something of a cathartic pause.
Holtmann — knowing he had to tell his players that he was suspending two of their starting five on a game day — earlier Tuesday told his wife, Lori, that it was necessary for him to pull out his “throwback” suit jacket. This is the awful one in the shade of muted pink, a color that is not unlike that of diluted blood on a rainy sidewalk that is cordoned off by police tape.
Holtmann wanted to make some sort of statement. He wanted his players to take control of the situation, and to play bold and free.
“For a guy who dresses as conservatively as I do,” Holtmann said, “this is as bold and free as I get.”
Credit to his players. They responded. They had in front of them one of the conference's weaker teams in a rebuilding phase. They took care of business. They shot 54.5% from the field and 45.5% from beyond the three-point arc. That they finally made a few shots is certainly a major story line. Just as important, and perhaps more so, is that the ball finally moved again in their half-court offense. Their guard play, which Holtmann describes as “critical” to team fortunes, was very good.
Those who saw these Buckeyes play such beautiful basketball earlier this season saw a recurrence. Freshman point guard D.J. Carton played with verve, off-guard CJ Walker scored 18 points, and senior wing Andre Wesson hit the big shots early. The Buckeyes had 17 assists and 12 turnovers. It was the first time they had a positive ratio since the Kentucky game just before Christmas.
Holtmann said the suspensions of Washington and Muhammad had something to do with “a specific off-the-floor incident.” Holtmann is in one of those “teachable moments” of the season.
“I'm not coaching just to win one game. Ever,” Holtman said, almost angrily. “If I'm ever coaching just to win one game, I'm out. I'm gone. Peace out.”
The good news: It's mid-January, which is not the worst time to teach beyond the chalkboard. There will be more ups and downs. There always are — especially in the loaded Big Ten, where winning on the road is next-to-impossible.
For a night, and despite some behind-the-scenes roiling, the Buckeyes found some peace on their home court. It was much needed.