OSU men letting leads slip away in recent games

Adam Jardy
Ohio State Buckeyes C.J. Jackson (3) passes the ball as he is guarded by Bucknell Bison Jordan Sechan (5) in the second half at Value City Arena in Columbus on December 15, 2018. [Samantha Madar]

Closing out halves and games has not been a season-long problem for the Ohio State men’s basketball team.

But recent games have been a different story.

As the No. 15 Buckeyes welcome Youngstown State on Tuesday night at Value City Arena, they will aim to take care of business from start to finish against the second-lowest-rated opponent on the schedule.

After Saturday’s two-point escape against Bucknell, the emphasis has been placed on playing a complete game.

“Down the stretch we have to learn to be better,” senior guard C.J. Jackson said. “Obviously it didn’t hurt us in the loss column, but we definitely learned our lesson about keeping our foot on the gas, continuing to be aggressive offensively and defensively.”

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Each of the past three games has seen the first half end in a similar fashion. Ahead 34-18 against Minnesota with four minutes left before intermission on Dec. 2, the Buckeyes were outscored 10-5 going into the break. Three days later against Illinois at the United Center in Chicago, they were leading 30-22 with 6:34 to play in the first half before the Fighting Illini closed with a 16-4 run to take a 38-34 lead at the break.

Bucknell did it to close both halves. A 37-25 Ohio State lead with 4:04 left turned into a 40-39 Bison lead at the half, and the Buckeyes had to survive a last-second missed three-pointer as a 69-58 lead with 4:28 left in regulation turned into a 73-71 nail-biter on Saturday afternoon.

The statistics accurately tell the tale. Those four stretches, totaling 19:06, have seen the Buckeyes outscored 54-15. During that time, Ohio State went 3 for 16 (18.8 percent) from the field, 10 of 17 (58.8 percent) from the free-throw line, turned it over 14 times and committed 12 fouls. In the other 100:54 of those three games, Ohio State has outscored Minnesota, Illinois and Bucknell by a combined 209-143.

After the Bucknell game, coach Chris Holtmann said he was likely to look more closely at his lineups and substitutions for similar situations going forward.

“As we grow and progress as a team, are there certain guys, one or two or three, that we can’t have sitting over by me?” he said Monday afternoon. “We need at least one or two of them on the court. We’re trying to look at that and figure out exactly who that would be.”

Two candidates are Kaleb Wesson and Keyshawn Woods. Wesson has played only 4:15 of those runs through a combination of foul trouble and Holtmann’s substitutions. He sat for the entire four minutes against Minnesota, played only 21 seconds against Illinois and roughly half (2:09) of the stretch to close the first half against Bucknell.

Woods played only 1:53 of the Illinois stretch and 44 seconds of Bucknell’s first-half run, but he was on the court for the final 4:28 of that game.

“The lesson is we’ve got to play more aggressive in the last three minutes with the lead,” Holtmann said. “We’ve got to be more aggressive.”


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