Men's basketball | Ohio State looks for answers after blowout loss
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The answers, first from senior C.J. Jackson and then from coach Chris Holtmann, weren’t overly flowery. The overall brevity from Ohio State’s senior leader and coach inside Mackey Arena could be understood, given that the majority of the questions coming their way after an 86-51 loss circled around a common theme.
Summed up simply, it went along these lines: Four days after a 20-point win against a top-25 team, how was a performance like this possible? Yes, the Buckeyes took a significant shot across the bow with the suspension of sophomore center Kaleb Wesson announced the day before the game, but his absence alone didn’t account for the most lopsided loss in more than three years.
Tied at 4, Purdue exploded by hitting seven straight shots, took control of the game against an Ohio State team that seemed equal parts powerless to stop the Boilermakers and too passive to exert too much effort to try and do so.
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After Holtmann’s postgame lecture to the team could be heard echoing down the halls, Jackson was asked if the Buckeyes played hard enough to win.
“Not at all,” he said.
That brought the obvious follow-up: why not? Why, after seemingly punching a ticket to the NCAA Tournament with Tuesday’s 90-70 win against No. 22 Iowa, didn’t the Buckeyes bring more grit to the Boilermakers?
“Personally, as the leader, it started with me not playing hard enough defensively and that led to other guys,” he said. “They were just in a rhythm. They didn’t really feel us. They were just passing the ball wherever they wanted, cutting wherever they wanted. That goes back to not playing hard enough.”
That much was certainly true. At the half, Purdue led 48-20 after shooting 57.6 percent (19 for 33) from the floor and going 8 for 14 (57.1 percent) from three. The Boilermakers scored on 11 straight possessions at one point, building a 32-13 lead with 8:32 left in the first half that was insurmountable for the Buckeyes.
Holtmann called a timeout after the first two threes in the game-altering run went down for the Boilermakers. He subbed out Luther Muhammad, Justin Ahrens, Jaedon LeDee and Jackson, but it didn’t make a difference.
“You’ve got to really make them work and make them earn it and find a way to just make them really earn what they’re getting, and we didn’t do that tonight,” Holtmann said. “Really didn’t do that at all. Most of their threes were wide-open looks and the ones they missed were really wide-open, for the most part clean looks. They’re not going to miss too many open ones.”
Purdue was 12 for 24 from three in its win at Ohio State earlier this season. It finished 11 for 21 (52.4 percent) from three in this win.
“I don’t think too much offensively was our problem today,” Jackson said. “We didn’t have too many turnovers. We didn’t take too many bad shots. It was more so defensively that took us out of it and when they’re scoring and we’re going against a Big Ten defense every possession, it’s tough.”
Holtmann also tried to pump the brakes on some of the praise given to Ohio State after the Iowa win.
“I don’t know that Iowa was our best game of the year,” he said. “I think people thought it was, but I’m not certain it was. We’ll have to look and see. There’s some things we obviously have to do different to prepare our guys, because clearly we didn’t respond the way we needed to.”
Trailing 48-20 at the break, Holtmann made some significant alterations to his starting lineup for the second half. Senior Joey Lane, a converted walk-on, started the half alongside Keyshawn Woods, Andre Wesson, LeDee and Jackson. Muhammad was the first substitution off the bench, replacing Woods, who had replaced first-half starter Ahrens.
Neither coach took a timeout during the second half. Purdue outscored Ohio State 38-31 after the break. Holtmann was asked what he hoped to see during halftime leading onto the court.
“At this point in the season, you’re really relying on your older guys to set the tone in moments like that and to communicate whatever they want to communicate in the locker room,” he said. “It’s obviously on all of us. We’ve all got to do a better job, but that’s what I was anxious to hear, what they had to say.
“I thought there were some better moments in the second half, but not many.”
Jackson downplayed the notion that starting Lane for the second half was designed to send any sort of message to the Buckeyes.
“We said in the huddle, no matter what happens everyone’s playing together,” he said. “Joey’s with us every day in practice, he goes through everything we go through so we have the same confidence as we would if he was a starter.”
Lopsided loss notwithstanding, one more win will likely clinch an NCAA Tournament bid for the Buckeyes. The best opportunity for that comes Wednesday at Northwestern, a team carrying a nine-game losing streak into Sunday’s game against Illinois.
Wesson is not expected to be available for that game, either.
“I think I’m more concerned with how our team is going to play and compete regardless of the absence of Kaleb,” Holtmann said. “I’m more concerned about how we’re going to play and compete, so we’ll see if it has a carryover effect. If we don’t compete harder, then it certainly will.”
Jackson said he didn’t think a loss like this one would affect the Buckeyes from a psychological standpoint.
“If you’re a basketball player, you know it’s a long season,” he said. “Losing like this is definitely not what you expect on any given night, but you’ve got to bounce back quick. We have goals that we want to continue postseason play so we have to turn the page quick.”
•After exploding for a 29-point performance against Iowa, Ahrens was scoreless in 19:41 against Purdue and attempted just one shot.
•Purdue has now won 17 straight home games since Ohio State’s last-second win at Mackey Arena last season.
•Ohio State committed only nine turnovers in the loss and has not had more than 11 turnovers in its last four games.
•Jackson, Ohio State’s second-leading scorer this season, was 1 for 6 from the floor and 0 for 4 from three, finishing with two points. Since scoring 17 in a loss to Illinois, Jackson has scored 21 points in his last four games and missed one due to a shoulder injury.
“It definitely gets very emotional because the clock’s going really fast right now. It’s not something you prepare for. It just happens. I’m going to practice my heart out tomorrow and be ready for Wednesday.” — Jackson, on having two regular-season games left in his career