Guards’ play key for Buckeyes, Wolverines

Adam Jardy
Michigan guard Zavier Simpson, who recorded a triple-double against Ohio State on Tuesday, drives past Kaleb Wesson in the second half. [Carlos Osorio/The Associated Press]

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Two point guards separated by rivalry faced the media Tuesday after Ohio State played Michigan at the Crisler Center.

First was Ohio State senior guard C.J. Jackson, the team representative sent out to discuss a 65-49 loss. In 30 minutes, he had 11 points, eight rebounds and four assists against one turnover. During a two-minute stretch late in the first half, he carried the Ohio State offense with seven straight points.

His back against the white concrete wall outside the visitors’ locker room, Jackson did his best to explain a sixth loss in seven games during January. It’s a role that has been put on his shoulders, and although he welcomes it for the sake of his teammates, it’s not one he sought.

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“It’s definitely tough,” he said of being the team spokesman. “It’s not something I’m really used to, but I’d rather do it than make one of my teammates do it, put them in positions they’re not really comfortable with.”

Roughly 20 minutes later, his counterpart in maize and blue was holding court inside the glass-walled interview room with fans peering through and some waving the blue thunder sticks distributed at every seat for the game.

Zavier Simpson, the four-star prospect from Lima Senior who never received a scholarship offer from what he described as his “dream school” — Ohio State — had just finished compiling the sixth triple-double in the history of Wolverines basketball: 11 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists.

His imprint was sprinkled throughout the game. The stat that coach John Beilein was most shocked by: In 36 minutes, Simpson did not turn the ball over. Perhaps it wasn’t a mistake when the closed-captioning services on the scoreboard repeatedly misspelled his first name as “Savior.”

Simpson said he was reading the Buckeyes and their emotions, which would eventually bubble over with a minor melee with 8:05 to play. Four players received technical fouls. The Ohio bloodlines run deep, too: His Lima Senior team lost to Westerville South, featuring Andre and Kaleb Wesson, in the state title game, and he is close with freshman Justin Ahrens, a Versailles native.

“Guys are tough with their mouth, but they’re not tough with their play,” he said. “Guys like to talk, which I appreciate. We feed off that. It gets us going. When they do that, we’re only hungry for more. We’re hungry for that next stop, making that next open pass, just try to win. That’s what we were hungry for.”

Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann took multiple questions about how his team has handled the physicality of Big Ten play and whether he had the right guys capable of playing that way. While at Butler, Holtmann offered Simpson a scholarship, and his primary recruiter at Michigan was LaVall Jordan, who replaced Holtmann when he took the Ohio State job.

“He’s a tremendous, tremendous player, he really is, and deserves a lot of credit for how he impacts winning,” Holtmann said after the game. “I think he just really impacts winning in a lot of ways and he deserves a lot of credit for that.”

On a night when Ohio State was looking for that from its players, the contrast was glaring. Jackson credited Simpson for being the “head of the snake” for the Wolverines but said he will do better when Rutgers plays Saturday at Value City Arena.

“I needed to be better,” Jackson said. “I’ve had a couple turnovers that can’t happen from a senior, or from anybody. I’ll look at the film and try to get better for Saturday.”


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