STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — As the sophomore spoke, the senior nodded his head in agreement.
Not much earlier, No. 21 Ohio State had just taken a 90-76 loss at Penn State, its fourth in five games. Once final, coach Chris Holtmann and his staff met with the team for more than 21 minutes before Duane Washington Jr. and Andre Wesson emerged to speak.
For Wesson, the situation has become routine this season as the lone scholarship senior on the roster. For Washington, though, it was both a chance to discuss the loss but the week that was, one that opened with him being benched at Indiana the previous Saturday and bottomed out with a one-game suspension that cost him Tuesday’s home game at Nebraska.
He served the suspension alongside class- and backcourt mate Luther Muhammad, and both returned to the lineup and came off the bench against the Nittany Lions. The suspension came on the heels of a three-game losing streak, and the direction of the season was headed toward a dark place.
Speaking for his teammate, Washington was promising that the two are “going to give everything we’ve got to our team and do it for each other” as Wesson nodded his head in agreement.
Wesson said he believes Washington’s words weren’t empty promises.
“Yeah, we love each other,” Wesson said. “We’re a very close-knit group in there. We really care about each other. Obviously losing Luther and Duane last game, it really hurt us, but we knew we had to go out there and play for them. We’re glad to have them back and we look forward to keep moving on.”
At Penn State, Washington led the Buckeyes with 20 points on 6-of-10 shooting in 25:55. Muhammad had a smaller role, adding six points on free throws and playing 8:34 off the bench. He missed both of his shot attempts, each of which came from behind the three-point line. Eleven of Washington’s points came in the final 13:43 of the game.
Holtmann didn’t have much to say about their performances.
“Duane was able to make some shots but the game was always a little bit out of reach there,” he said. “Defensively I thought Luther gave us some deflections and Duane made some shots, but it’s hard to look at it individually in most cases right now.”
“We’re glad to be back,” Washington said. “Trying to just help our team do what we can to win. We learned from our decisions and we’re back better than ever.”
What those decisions were was something Washington wasn’t willing to discuss.
“(We’ll) keep those in-house with us,” he said. “We handled it and we learned our lesson. We’re going to move on and do everything we can to keep our team doing well in the future.”
As for the lessons learned, Washington said both players grew up.
“That’s about it,” he said. “Just growing up. Our teammates got our backs. Coach has got our backs as well. We’re moving on and we’re excited for the rest of the season.”
Without the two, Ohio State handled Nebraska on Tuesday night with an 80-68 win that felt as lopsided as Saturday’s result was in the other direction. Muhammad and Washington watched that one from the locker room.
“I know my teammates are strong,” Washington said of that experience. “They believe in me as much as I believe in them. They’ve got my back through hell and back. I knew they were going to go out and get the dub, whether it was with us or without us. Now that we’re back, we’re going to give everything we’ve got to our team and do it for each other.”
It just fell far short of being a potential spark for a team in need of one. Having snapped a losing streak and winning handily the last time out, getting two players back seemed like a chance for the Buckeyes to seize upon some positive momentum and start to turn the season around.
Instead, it was a loss that Holtmann that had Holtmann faulting the team’s effort for the first time this season.
“I think that’s part of (why it stings),” he said. “We really haven’t had that on the road a whole lot. It’s always been (we’ve had) more there. It just wasn’t. Again, give (Penn State) credit for that.”
That led to the lengthy postgame meeting where players were given the opportunity to address the group and air their thoughts and feelings. Wesson described it as the Buckeyes “just trying to figure things out, really. We haven’t started out Big Ten play how we wanted and we’re just trying to clean some things up. It was a little bit of both (coaches and players talking), open communication, trying to figure things out.”
With a season that feels to be teetering on the edge of something, Holtmann was asked if he worries about negativity feeding upon more negativity.
“I think if you’ve got a weak-minded team that could be the case,” he said. “We know what we bargained for. It’s a great league. Playing on the road. I would’ve liked for our performance to be better, but Penn State deserves credit, too.”